How to Plan an Effective Crisis Communications Strategy

20 April 2022 11:30

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Do you know what makes a good crisis communications strategy? It’s not about developing a perfect roadmap that tries to account for every possible scenario; rather, it’s about anticipating the most likely scenarios while being prepared for the unexpected, putting plans and clearly defined steps into place that let you react decisively – and even proactively – to a wide assortment of PR crises as they strike and evolve. And that’s because the only constant in today’s digital world is uncertainty.

This blog post is the second in a five-part series on how PR teams can create an effective crisis communications strategy for the modern communications landscape. Our first entry in the series explored the five most increasingly common crisis communications scenarios in 2022. To recap the blog post’s key takeaway, the goal of a good crisis communications strategy isn’t to be overly prescriptive and hyper focused on these potential crises. The goal is to establish an agile foundation that lets you act as quickly and as effectively as possible – whether a crisis was accounted for in your strategy or not.

Here, we’re going to look at how you can plan for creating an effective crisis communications strategy. We’ll go over tips to remember before setting out to write and develop your actual crisis communications strategy, so you can gain a solid foundation for what’s to come. It may be tempting to skip these steps altogether and jump straight into creating your actual strategy, but we promise that acting on these tips beforehand will be well worth your effort. When you take the time to plan and outline your strategy, you and your PR team gain a much more informed, agile, and proactive crisis communications strategy that’s far more beneficial to your organization.

Conduct a crisis audit


No PR professional can predict what the next major crisis will be, but you can use a combination of research and industry analysis to identify the most likely scenarios to occur—like the ones we covered in our first blog post. This is where a crisis audit comes in handy.

Evaluate the crisis situations similar organizations and competitors within or even outside your industry have faced. How did each crisis occur? How did the impacted organization respond and what was the pushback or reception from the media and consumers? Did they handle it well or did they nudge things in the wrong direction? This is an excellent way to not only identify future problems for yourself, how to respond should they occur, and to possibly prevent them from happening in the first place.

Think through your strategic crisis responses


After you’ve identified the communications crises most likely to hit your organization, now you can start brainstorming what your strategic responses should be in the event one occurs. Think through with your team the communications tactics you would deploy—social media posts, executive interviews, video, PR releases—to respond. This is where your crisis audit pays off since you’ll know which tactics worked the best for the organizations you evaluated. Just make sure to account for differing factors between your two organizations. For example, the organization with a successful response may have a completely different audience than yours, one that was more responsive and open to the tactic used.

Also, make sure your strategic response plans include how decisions are conveyed to executives and employees internally. And don’t forget to establish a clear chain of approvals so that decisions can be made as quickly as possible in the moment.

Consider how you’ll leverage your data


Access to quality, unbiased data is one of your most powerful tools in your toolkit for informed PR decision-making. The more informed you are, the more capable you are at minimizing damage during a crisis. As you think through your strategic responses for crises that haven’t even occurred yet, remember that you’ll need an efficient and all-encompassing way to analyze the results of your efforts in real-time—and in a meaningful, contextual way—should one of them happen. Having the right measurement and monitoring tools in place allows you to quickly access the right information to inform your crisis response.

Know - and remind others - the value your PR team brings to the organization


PR professionals are more important now than ever. It seems like a day hardly goes by before we hear about the next corporate scandal, political fallout, or executive misstep. Your PR team must take an active role within your organization if you ever hope to establish a proactive crisis communications strategy. We’re not recommending your PR department becomes a group of doomsayers, always promising PR catastrophe is imminent. Instead, remind your organization that you’re there to help them recover in the public domain should a PR crisis ever strike, and that taking positive brand perception for granted today could be costly in the future.

Plan an effective crisis communications strategy with greater confidence


If you want a crisis communications strategy that proves itself effective when the moment to respond comes, then plan your strategy ahead of time before codifying on paper. And keep these tips in mind when doing so to bring you closer to a good crisis communications strategy.

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