In my experience there are 5 key areas to avoid when developing a Crisis Communications Plan:
- Lack of Clarity: Communications can mean many different things to different people. It’s critical to clearly define the scope of communications – it can be useful to think in terms of two broad categories: the communications function as a distinct centre of expertise; and the various communications tasks that happen between the functional groups involved (e.g. sharing information between the executive office, IT, security etc).
- Weak Governance: Connected to the issue of clarity is the importance of establishing a very strong governance model for crisis communications – this will make or break your response efforts. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, as well as an escalation mechanism for decision making. Tip: A RACI model (outlining who is Responsible, Accountable, needs to be Consulted and Informed can be helpful).
- Over-Reliance on Personality: So often, organizations rely on particular personalities and existing relationships to manage in a crisis. This is dangerous – there should be a documented, formalized system of accountability (with appropriate back-up) so that the crisis response will continue to work even if key individuals are on holiday, or leave the organization.
- Inadequate Capacity: A Crisis Communications Plan is great; however, it’s only as good as the people available to implement it. Ensuring that you have adequate internal capacity in crisis communications is vital. Ensure that appropriate training is offered, and consider opportunities for cross-training staff, as well as working with other functional groups to foster a strong corporate, team approach to crisis communications.
- A Static Process: When a Crisis Communications Plan is finally hatched, there is a temptation to celebrate the victory, then move on to other priorities. It’s important to think about crisis communications planning as a process not a document – be sure to keep it current through regular presentations, information sessions for staff and simulated or table-top exercises.