Issues and Crisis Communication Planning

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At times, you may be confronted with a pressing issue or crisis. Planning for such situations will help to position you favorably in what may be a time where chaos is prevalent. Having a plan before a crisis occurs will help you take better control of the situation and project confidence to your audience. In this module, you will learn the following:

  • Gauging the crisis level
  • Provide feedback and insight
  • How information will be distributed
  • Track overall effect

Each of these topics will help you be prepared for those times when a crisis occurs. Let learn how to gauge the crisis level first.

Gauging the Impending Crisis Level

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Being ready to confront a crisis is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your value and leadership, increasing your network. During a time of crisis, you will meet many people quickly. They can be local officials or top leaders of your organization. Being caught off guard will leave you paralyzed and contribute little value to the situation. When a crisis occurs, gauging the situation is essential in order to determine who extensive the problem is. 

Once you gauge the crisis, you are able to determine action. In addition, you may be able to lend insight to the crisis response team or become a part of a crisis response team. Remember that you should remain calm during a crisis so you can be seen as a leader.

Here are some simple steps to gauging a crisis when it occurs:

  • What happened? Sometimes the initial reports are inaccurate and sketchy. Your goal here is to determine what actually happened. Ask several resources and contacts. Take notes and compare the information. If you see discrepancies then the crisis has not been clearly assessed yet. Continue until you obtain consistent answers. 
  • Why did it happen? The reasons for the crisis may not be easy to determine. However, gaining this information could avoid more problems to occur and reduce further damage.
  • Who is impacted? This is essential to obtain because anyone involved in the crisis will need some form of communication management to happen. If customers are affected, then you may need to make an announcement to the public. If employees are involved, you may need to contact their families. Identifying who is impacted is essential and this demonstrates your caring of others.
  • What are the ramifications? Once you obtain the first three pieces of information, you will need to sit down and determine the ramifications. Here are some things to consider:
  • What is the legal or liability involved.
  • What is the cost of correcting or dealing with the crisis?
  • What damage to the company image will occur?
  • What affects does the crisis have with the ability for the company to run normally?
  • Who is liable? Determine if your company or someone else is liable and seek legal counsel as soon as possible.

Providing Feedback and Insights

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Providing feedback and insight on a crisis is a delicate job, but doing it right will increase your credibility, allowing you to meet more people and increase your network. However, you must be credible first. In today’s technology, people become quickly educated on a topic via online search engines and virtual resources. 

The key to giving good feedback and reliable insight is to be knowledgeable about the crisis through quick data gathering. You can use the Internet and other sources that will give you the information you need to understand and make competent comments when necessary. 

When a crisis occurs and you have gauged the situation, begin using the RUN technique so you can gaining the information you need to formulate an assessment and provide clear insight. 

RUN stands for the following:

  • Research and gather as much information about the crisis as possible. Try to find similar situations that you can draw parallels from and determine how they apply to the current crisis. 
  • Understanding of all parties involved is necessary. Try to see all points of view so you can provide unbiased feedback and insight. If you are clearly favor one side, you will find it difficult to connect with all parties involved. Understanding demonstrates your care for people, which will help to de-escalate the situation.
  • Neutral point-of-view is necessary. When giving your thoughts and insight about a crisis, providing a neutral point-of-view is necessary if you want your message to be heard. Avoid blaming others. Instead, be calm and factual with your feedback. Avoid speculation and know your limits. If the crisis requires legal advice, then do not speak on topics that may be sensitive. 

How Information Will be Distributed

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Waiting for a crisis to begin planning your communication is the wrong time to do this. In a crisis, you will have little time to sit down and think of all the people that need communication when a crisis occurs. In fact, some crisis may only require specific people to be contacted.

You should plan your communication for a crisis in advance. This way you can brainstorm different situations and determine whom all needs to be reached. Furthermore, you can plan what type of information should be sent to the recipients and how they receive it. 

A communication plan is a simple way of organizing the communication process when a crisis happens. It should be done in advance and kept in an accessible place for you or someone who is your backup in case you are not available. 

The basic communication plan includes the following elements:

  • Party to contact
  • How should they be contacted (ex. email, letter, phone or in person)
  • What should be communicated
  • When should they be communicated
  • Who is responsible or owner for communicating to that party
  • The date this party was actually contacted

The communication plan is invaluable in a time of crisis. Make sure to update the plan as contacts change or risks occur.

Tracking the Overall Effect

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Once a crisis happens, it is a good practice to monitor its effects on the organization. There are many areas to monitor. Neglecting to monitor the situation could lead to negative information to circulate, damaging the image of your company.

A good method in tracking the effects is to scan the environment. The easiest way is to use search online to see what is being said about the situation. The results of a search engine are usually prioritized by popularity. If you do not see your company in the first few pages of a search engine results list, you can at least rule out the Web for now. However, you should monitor the Web for several weeks after a crisis.

If you do find results that related to the crisis and your company, you should monitor the reaction and respond to those reports that are damaging. A simple tool you can use is a tracking sheet. 

The sheet contains the following fields:

  • Date
  • How the data was found
  • Name of the source
  • What was said
  • Popularity of the source
  • How does this affect your organization
  • Can you respond to the source

In today’s age of social media, it is good to monitor social networking sites for blogs and comments about your company crisis. Many times, you cannot directly change the information being reported on these areas. Monitoring that outlet gives you the ability to prepare for any repercussion it may cause against your company.

Case Study 

Frank and Bill were running around frantically. The ad went to print with a critical error. Frank and Bill were in crisis mode. The ad posed a huge problem. Frank had beads of sweat dripping down his face. Bill spoke a mile a minute. What could they do? They butted heads on the issue. Frank went up and Bill went down. Frank thought his idea would work. Bill thought it sounded like a train wreck. Naomi stepped in between the dueling gentlemen and proposed an easy fix. Naomi called the media and alerted them to the critical error. Frank and Bill waited with bated breath. Could their error be reversed? Naomi received word that the problem had been mended and Frank and Bill breathed a sigh of relief, glad that the impending doom had been a false alarm.