Step-by-Step: Creating Your Own Crisis Communications Kit

Deep waterChances are incredibly high that your company is going to experience a crisis of some kind in the next year.

It’s how you handle that crisis that will likely determine whether that crisis builds or seriously damages your company.

As 90 percent of crisis response is communication-related, I would suggest that you think about the need to respond in real-time, as Robert Scoble suggested when he was quoted in Fast Company when he said: “Reputations are created and destroyed online in the speed of 140 characters.”

He obviously referred to Twitter at that time (now 280 characters) and the common phrase today that reputation can be created (Susan Boyle) and destroyed overnight (Bernie Madoff). (Remember the plane landing in the Hudson River. Ordinary people were tweeting pictures and video footage to the networks before the Media actually got there).

A crisis can strike a Business at any time, and during this crisis, a Company’s image and reputation can be damaged significantly. Often, this can be a result of not responding adequately to media and other stakeholder inquiries.

Understanding what Communication challenges may arise during a crisis or before one occurs is therefore critical.

In the book Real-Time Marketing & PR, David Meerman Scott teaches how to use time and urgency to gain a huge competitive advantage, and I quote:

In a world where speed and agility are now essential to success, most organizations still operate slowly and deliberately, cementing each step months in advance, responding to new developments with careful but time-consuming processes. The Internet has fundamentally changed the pace of business, compressing time and rewarding speed. Your accustomed methods and processes may be already fatally out of sync with the world around you. The narrative of your business now unfolds, minute-by-minute, in real-time. And it’s no longer guided by the mass media your ad budget can buy.’

Speed is thus of the essence. That’s why it is vital that you develop a crisis communications and management plan or kit that prepares you in advance for this eventuality. This communication kit should assist your organization to respond timeously and promptly to crisis situations.

Here’s a starter list of eight items that should be included in any crisis communications kit:

1. A list of the members of the crisis management team, which should include, at minimum, the CEO, a trusted assistant/top manager from the CEO’s office, heads of each department, Investor Relations Officer details, public relations, and marketing team members, legal and security. In case of an actual crisis, this team will be focused down to the group applicable to that specific crisis.

2. Contact information for key officers, spokespeople, and crisis management team members including company and personal phone numbers, email addresses, cell numbers, instant message handles, Twitter addresses, even spouse’s cell numbers, should the person be inaccessible by other means.

With the astute use of technology today, the above contact details could be kept in online contact databases in Google Contacts or in the cloud in services like Dropbox.  You should have the Crisis team’s details on fast dial on your smartphone.

3. Fact sheets on the company, each division, each physical location, and each product offered.
These should be in camera-ready condition, plus available on a USB stick in a generally-accepted word processor format (Microsoft Word) so they can be revised and printed out if necessary on a computer external to your facilities. Photos should also be included.

4. Profiles and biographies for each key manager in your company, again in camera-ready condition, in the cloud, and on USB.

5. Copies of your company, division and product logos, your press release format, and the scanned-in signature of your CEO on USB or in a format that works on your internal word processing program (plus one in Microsoft Word in case you have to work on a computer that isn’t tied to your network.)

6. Holding statements or Pre-written scripts answering key questions that you have generated through your crisis scenario analysis. Included in these scripts should be the words you use to say “we don’t have that information yet, but will let you know as soon as it becomes available.”

7. Contact information for each of your key media contacts both locally, nationally, and if appropriate, key financial press and analysts. Contact information for your appropriate stakeholders like suppliers, political, regulatory, and union leaders should also be included. Don’t be afraid to go overboard here – if you have an oil spill, your CEO will probably want to call not only the Media but also selected Government representatives.

8. Flowcharts of the Protocols & Procedures to be followed. These will differ depending on the type of crisis. For instance, in the event of death, it is vital that the Department of Labour be informed, forthwith according to the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Obviously, you first want to inform management. Then,  the authorities. In the case of a fire, there may be other communication protocols to be followed.

Flowcharts can help to speed up decision-making.

Where & Who should keep the Toolkit

It’s important for your crisis communications kit to not only be duplicated in some offsite location and in the cloud but to also include information, disks, graphics, computer files, photos, etc. that are normally readily at your fingertips in your office. Alternatively, this information should be in a password-controlled format on your website/intranet.

I once knew the Crisis Manager of a Rail organization. She kept the copy of her plan at home, at the office, and in her car. Just in case.

I strongly recommend that you assemble this kit shortly. It will be one of the best insurance policies that you can have on hand once a crisis begins.

Remember time is of the essence in a crisis and the key is to prepare for real-time communication. This toolkit (currently available as a time-limited discounted special) can help to shorten your learning curve in creating your own plan.

For more information on crisis management and communications, I recommend that you check out my various blog posts.