Long live the crisis comms plan: preparation is essential in the digital age

Some say the crisis plan is dead in today's world of lightning speed digital media and proliferating platforms, but they couldn't be more wrong.

A crisis is no time for ill thought out, knee jerk responses. Have a plan, argues Giles Read
A crisis is no time for ill thought out, knee jerk responses. Have a plan, argues Giles Read
Good crisis planning and preparation is as important as ever, if not more so. 

Many companies in regulated sectors like utilities, healthcare and oil & gas are still legally required to have robust crisis communications plans. Furthermore, crisis communications remain an important aspect of universally recognised standards like ISO and proven crisis management systems like ICS. 

Customers, investors and potential business partners often make decisions based on whether a business is properly prepared to manage the reputational aspects of potential crises. 

Organisations are also constantly rapped across the knuckles after major crises if they are poorly managed. 

Thomas Cook was told to review its crisis communications procedures by former Sainsbury’s CEO, Justin King, earlier this year following the Corfu incident in 2006. 

The UK’s major electricity distributors were asked to sharpen up stakeholder management by their regulator, DECC, following the storms in 2013 where customers were left feeling helpless. 

Communications is often the first front in any crisis for a client, especially in the age of social media where leaks are inevitable and legislation may soon require companies to disclose cyber attacks and data loss incidents. 

In essence, a crisis communications plan provides crucial cover in the opening rounds of an incident so the management team can get to grips with the situation and start taking strategic steps to protect the reputation of their business. 

Individuals cannot rely on instinct alone, especially in larger organisations where there can be a complex and often bewildering array of stakeholders to consider. 

For instance, a crisis plan will often contain pre-approved statements that can be issued almost immediately following minor amends. 

These considered statements mean a company can get the pitch and tone right in the opening salvos of an incident to contain it and reassure stakeholders. 

International best practice suggests a holding statement should be issued within the first 30 minutes of an incident occurring and/or breaking publicly. 

Trying to come up with an immediate and appropriate response afresh in this time frame is challenging at best and perilous at worst.

Having said this, it is clear that the impact of social and digital media has transformed crisis planning and preparation for the good.  

Crisis communications planning needs to be a dynamic and living process within organisations to take into account today’s rich and constantly evolving media tapestry. 

Crisis communications plans can no longer sit on a shelf gathering dust; instead, they need to be constantly reviewed in alignment with BCP and operational crisis plans. 

A considered and calculated response taking into account an organisation’s broader stakeholder expectations will always serve its interests better. 

Ill-thought-out, knee-jerk responses will often if not always cause more harm than good. 

Long live the crisis plan.  

Giles Read is head of crisis planning at Powerscourt 

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