Crisis Communications Plan – where to start?
Nobody wants to plan for a crisis. It’s human nature to put crisis communication planning to the bottom of the already oh too busy to do list. But don’t.
I have written about what goes into a good crisis communications plan. And that advice still stands. But sometime after you’ve gotten your head wrapped around the concept, you will ask:
Um, where to start?
My advice: start with the thing that scares you the most. You learn a lot about yourself and vulnerability when you look the thing you don’t want to look at square in the eye.
For charities, we sometimes like to start with issues around ethical and legal breaches. Theft accusations, like those that the now former Executive Directors of the Toronto and Ottawa’s Salvation Army offices are facing (they have been charged but nothing has been proven in a court of law), strike terror into the hearts of many a charity worker — and no wonder. They can undo years or even generations of trust built with a donating public. And no one wants to think that their colleagues could be capable of such a breach.
With the makers of a product, we sometime work with them to think through how their crisis communications would unfold around an injury or death resulting from the use of it.
With a start-up, we help them think through what they would do and say if the money dried up and they were staring bankruptcy in the face.
It is not that we enjoy torturing people. My gut twists right alongside theirs when we go through the exercise. But helping a client face their deepest fears is useful on a number of levels:
- It makes the potential crisis more real. When it is more real, when you have to think about how you will tell the various publics about a crisis and respond to their needs, you can sometimes find vulnerabilities you didn’t find before in the more dispassionate business plan. You might even discover a safeguard to prevent against the crisis.
- Fear can be a powerful motivator — but only if you find ways of constructively using it. If a start-up client refuses to look at potential crisis, running out of money, by way of example, it indicates to us that they are perhaps lacking the emotional maturity they need to take their business to the next level. They may be less likely to be able to effectively think creatively to prevent financial crisis or collapse because the fear owns them and not the other way around.
- If you can’t look your fear in the eye, it will own you. Want to know the most effective way of dealing with fear? It’s not what most people do. Most people think it’s to muscle through it and pretend it isn’t there. But it only makes things worse. Nope, the best way to deal with nerves is to acknowledge them, maybe even admit publicly to having them. When you can honestly live in your fear, it no longer controls you.
What is the thing that scares you most? What’s the thing that would shame or mortify you the most if, on behalf of your company or organization you had to stand up in front in front of cameras and microphones surrounded by journalists, bloggers, and micro-bloggers and disclose it?
Spend a bit of time twisting it with it and the painful or humbling conversations you might have to have with your most affected publics. Don’t put anything down in your plan until you have felt that little lump of fear in the back of your throat.
It’s your crisis communications plan and you can start wherever you like. I like to start with the thing that might just give us that added incentive to avoid the crisis in the first place.
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