7 Steps to Building a Crisis Comms Plan

Heads Up!

It all starts by being aware of your surroundings on the playing field (photo credit below.)

My recent series of posts covering the basics of crisis communications generated a few questions from pros who have the corporate comms thing wired, but would like to see more granularity on the mechanics of building a crisis comms program. You ask, we deliver. This post will expound on our 101 post, “Preparing for the Inevitable.” Specifically, it will list the steps to take when applying tip #2 and tip #3 to crisis planning; knowledge of the issues and knowledge of what might go wrong.

Fair warning, I just got off a Saturday of watching spring football, so football (American) is the analogy du jour.

Step 1: Understand the Field of Play

A football coach knows where the sidelines are, the length of the field, the size of the end zone, etc. He also knows where the players are on the field – his team and the other team. He understands his players’ roles, strengths and weaknesses, and he understands the other team’s strengths and weaknesses. These are the things he knows before his team walks out on the field, and this helps him navigate once the whistle is blown to start play. For the professional communicator, this means doing your research and analyzing your organization’s situation, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – inside and out.

Step 2: Understand the Issues Within the Field of Play

When you understand your organization’s playing field the issues related to its operations – and the industry in which it operates – begin to come into focus.  The field you’re playing on may be muddied, your starting quarterback may be playing with a bad knee, the league might have instituted a new rule and/or the referees may have a reputation for calling a lot of penalties. You have to take the understanding of your field of play and combine it with your understanding of the issues within it to further define your plan.

Step 3: Consider Each Issue’s Crisis Potential

True crisis springs from issues. Just like a fire springs from a fuel source, a crisis springs from an issue potentially related to your day-to-day operations. Once you understand where the issues are, you can anticipate from where your next crisis might spring. A muddy field will slow down your running back or it might present a problem for your quarterback as he tries to plant and throw.

Step 4: Brainstorm Bad Day Scenarios

This doesn’t need to be an exhaustive exercise, but this is the time to put on your Chicken Little hat. Look at the potential issues and brainstorm all the bad things that could happen surrounding each. Continuing the muddy field example, this could lead to a running back held to below-average yardage gained, an injury to the quarterback that takes him out of the game or a blown-out knee that ends his season, or possibly his career.

Step 5: Prioritize

Once you have your list of bad day scenarios, rank them by:

  1. How likely they are to happen, and
  2. How damaging they would be to your organization.

Your quarterback missing the rest of the game after tweaking his knee is a realistic scenario, given the muddy field and his injury, but you probably have a decent backup to finish the game. Your running back posting small yardage numbers is less likely, but could be more damaging to the team if it happens. Your quarterback blowing out his knee is less likely than tweaking it, but it’s still a possibility, and the damage to the team is extremely high.  How you prioritize your bad day scenarios is up to you, but it should be based on your objective research and your understanding of your organization’s goals.

Depending on your time and resources, pick your top 2 or 3. This is where you’ll start planning.

Step 6: Get Smart(er)

I read it somewhere recently and, for the life of me, I can’t remember who said it (would welcome a little help identifying the source,) but the gist of it is: there aren’t enough years in our life to make, and learn from, our own mistakes, so it’s a good idea to learn from others’, from time to time. Whatever bad day scenarios you’ve come up with, somebody else has faced a similar crisis, so do your research. Find examples, case studies, news articles, books and anything else related to your scenario. Index them as references you can go back to as you build your plan and socialize it within your organization.

Step 7: Build Your Playbook

This step deserves a post of its own, and it covers tips #4, #5 and #6.


Photo by Derek Mortensen for Electric Umbrella, Some Rights Reserved. Original Image: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-8107002057.
Original Caption: University of Saskatchewan Huskies linebacker Corbin Eskelson (#47) and University of Saskatchewan Huskies defensive back Luke Thiel (#5) make a tackle as the University of Saskatchewan Huskies take on the University of Alberta Golden Bears at Foote Field in Edmonton Alberta on Saturday October 20th, 2012.

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