Crisis Communications Checklist: Four Hidden Problems that Lead to Failure

Free Crisis Plan Gerard Braud

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By Gerard Braud

Public relations people are always searching for a free crisis communications checklist, as though some expert in crisis communications has the magic solution in a free template. Just search for crisis communications checklist, or free crisis communications checklist or free crisis communications template and you’ll see what I mean.

The problem with a crisis communications checklist is that it is no different than any other to-do list in your life. What is the truth about your other to-do lists? Well, many of the tasks go undone.

Why do they go undone? Because the task is assigned to no one and the to-do list has no time limit for completion.

Take the typical free crisis communications checklist that you find online. It will say things such as:
1) Gather information
2) Consider whether you will need to write key messages
3) Consider whether you will need to call a news conference
4) Select a spokesperson

In the crisis communications checklist as exemplified above, there are 4 huge problems:

1) The tasks in the checklist are assigned to no one.
2) There is no time limit on how soon the tasks need to be finished.
3) There is no mandate that the tasks should be done.
4) There are no details about the steps that should be taken in order to know that each task on the checklist is done properly.

The flaw with the crisis communications checklist is it still requires you to make too many decisions on the day of your crisis that could have been made days, months, and years before on a clear sunny day.

My expert advice is to never depend on a crisis communications checklist. On a clear sunny day you should write a crisis communications plan that predetermines:
1) What is the sequence of steps that must be followed?
2) To whom are those tasks assigned?
3) How quickly must the tasks be completed?
4) What are the details that you must know to complete the task correctly?

There is no shortcut to writing a crisis communications plan correctly. Don’t trust the fate of your career and the reputation and revenues of your company to something that you find for free on the internet.

If you’d like to see what you shouldn’t have, here are a few links:

1 Confusing Name and 3 Things You Need to Know to Have to an Effective Crisis Communications Plan

Plan-to-FailBy Gerard Braud

Imagine this: You are eating dinner at a major corporate event. The event is only serving soup for dinner. You need only a spoon to eat the soup. However the table is set with a knife and fork. You don’t have the right tool for the right job. In other words, you can’t eat your soup.

Why do you have no spoon and only have a knife and fork? Because one of the top corporate officials declared that each person sitting at the table needed a utensil for dinner.

The terminology is flawed.

Now consider this: As a public relations expert and communications professional, you might not have the right crisis communications plan and tools because of one flawed name. That flawed name is “Crisis Plan.”

Three types of documents are generically – and incorrectly – referred to as a Crisis Plan. This is a confusing mistake for three areas of crisis response.

Every business should have three plans with three unique names. They include the:
1. Crisis Communications Plan
2. Emergency Operations Plan (also called Incident Command Plan)
3. Risk Management Plan (also called Business Continuity Plan)

If you are a communications professional, you need a plan specifically designed to meet your communications needs. Yet many communicators in public relations fly by the seat of their pants during a crisis because the company leadership has told them, “We have a crisis plan.”

I know this to be true because of the large number of public relations professionals who attempt to budget time and money to create the perfect crisis communications plan, but who get resistance from their corporate leaders who boldly declare, “We already have a crisis plan.” Many in PR struggle to explain the differences to their boss. If you are facing the same troubling situation, here are three things you should explain to your boss:

#1 A Crisis Communications Plan is used to properly communicate to the media, employee, customers, and other key audiences during a crisis. A crisis should be defined as any event that could damage the reputation and revenue of the company. Some crises are the result of an emergency, such as a work place shooting, fire or explosion. Other events, such as a high profile sexual harassment lawsuit or executive misbehavior, constitute a crises, yet do not have the characteristics of an emergency that require the emergency response of first responders.

#2 An Emergency Operations Plan or Incident Command Plan coordinates internal and external first responders in an emergency. This is the instruction manual for your internal responders for fires, explosions, and acts of violence. Should an emergency take place, the Crisis Communications Plan would direct the public relations team to share information about the emergency with the media, employees and stakeholders. Hence, both plans would be needed at the same time.

#3 The Risk Management Plan or Business Continuity Plan would help keep the corporate supply chain functioning if there was a significant fire and explosion in a production or distribution facility. The Risk Management Plan minimizes financial and logistical risks by having contingency plans for warehouses, production facilities and transportation options.

If a fire and explosion occurred, all three plans would be executed by three independent groups of experts.

1. Public relations experts would execute the Crisis Communications Plan.

2. Emergency response experts would execute the Emergency Operations
Plan.

3. Risk management experts would execute the Risk Management Plan.

Now consider this. The Crisis Communications Plan would be used every time the other two plans are being used. But the other two plans are often not needed or used when the Crisis Communications Plan is needed, such as in the example of sexual harassment lawsuit.

Now ask yourself and your corporate leaders, do you have all three tools to manage all three of your critical response business functions in a crisis? Or will you be ill prepared because of one confusing name?

A Crisis Plan vs. a Crisis Communications Plan

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanBy Gerard Braud

One of the greatest problems in crisis management today is a lack of consistent definitions and names for the various plans needed by a business. You may read this and recognize you don’t have what you need.

Crisis Plan

Many companies have a document that they call a “Crisis Plan.” What they actually have is a rudimentary public relations 101 outline that will fail them in a time of crisis. It does not contain the elements needed to communicate honestly and rapidly when adrenaline is flowing and emotions are high. Since 2005 I have been sharing links to copies of such plans that I have found on the internet, as I admonish companies that such a document is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, this is the same type of document used by Virginia Tech on the day of their shooting.

Emergency Operations Plans, Incident Command Plans & NIMS Plans

Other businesses claim to have a Crisis Plan, which might better be defined as an Emergency Operations Plan, Incident Command Plan or NIMS Plan. Such plans coordinate police, fire, EMS and rescue. Generally these plans have no communications instructions in them as it relates to communicating with the media, your employees or other key audiences. Hence, when news crews show up at the scene, responders and executives are thrown for a loop and caught off guard. Some of these plans make provisions to communicate via text messaging, but they fail to provide all of the communications systems provided by a true crisis communications plan.

Gerard Braud Crisis Plan VideoCrisis Communications Plan

A Crisis Communications Plan is a step-by-step manual that tells you what to do, what to say and when to say it. All decisions are made on a clear sunny day when you are of sound mind and body — free of the adrenaline and emotions that exist on the day of a crisis. Pre-written news release templates are created for a wide variety of crisis scenarios. When the crisis strikes, communications can happen rapidly because of the fill-in-the-blank format of the templates. The goal is to communicate with critical audiences, such as media, employees and others within one hour of the onset of the crisis.

What You Can Have Completed in Just 2 Days

Next week in New Orleans you can have the correct plan – a Crisis Communications Plan – and you can have it completed in just two days. The system I’ve created is designed to be so simple that if you can read, you can execute the plan. You do what it says to do on page one, and then turn to page two. You do what it says to do on page two, and then turn to page three and so on. Its sequential instructions make it thorough, yet easy to use.

When the time comes to write and issue a news release, you simply turn to your library of pre-written news releases. Within minutes you are able to share the news release with the media, post it to the web, e-mail it to employees and other key stakeholders, and post messages on social media directing people to your website for official information.

Why Communications Often Fails During a Crisis

It takes a lot of time to write a news release from scratch, and then get it through the approval process of executives and the legal staff. My system works because it uses pre-written templates that have been approved by leaders and the legal staff. The messages have also been tested during a crisis drill. On the day of the crisis you simply fill in the blanks of the who, what, when, where, why and how and you are ready to communicate honestly and in a timely manner. Often timely communications is a matter of life and death.

To discuss this more, call me at 985-624-9976. You can also learn more here.