Though You Can’t Thwart Crises, Plan Anyway

Posted on June 17, 2013

Though You Can’t Thwart Crises, Plan Anyway

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Andre 3000 said it well in the 2001 Outkast hit “Ms. Jackson” – “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” Though he was referring to life in general, the same thought process lends itself to crisis communications situations. And when it comes to crisis planning in 2013, potential inclement weather is only a small portion of concern (sorry Andre).

Crisis situations, unfortunately, are something for which companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes must prepare – even though no one has any idea what will truly happen on any given day, at any given event or during any specific occurrence. Despite the unknown, today’s crisis plans (depending on the company and/or event) must take into account the potential worst-of-the-worst well in advance, including, when applicable, planning for potential security breaches, social media fallout and full-on disasters.  Communications strategies that align with each planned, responsive step are vital – and must also be fleshed out well before any hellacious situation begins.

Crisis situations are many and varied. Some are those that garnish major media attention – and affect multiple individuals on a truly tragic level. Think of the Aurora, Ill. movie theater shooting, the Newtown, Conn. school tragedy and the Boston, Mass. marathon bombing as these sorts of scenarios. Public areas and public events – no matter the age, location or innocence of victims – are potential sources for widespread calamity. Those places which were once considered “safe” are not immune. Even K-12 school systems must now plan for potential crisis scenarios, complete with pre and post security measures. Date locations like movie theaters and restaurant chains must have top-down crisis plans. Events made open to the public must protect the masses with, yes, planning. Though most of the worst-case scenario situations will not occur, plans must be in place – and so must the communications plans that enable media and the public to stay informed and up to date.

Crisis situations can also be caused by digital fallout. In January 2012, The Associated Press broke the story that Susan G. Komen would end funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood locations nationwide. Immediately, Planned Parenthood posted this announcement on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter users sent more than 1.3 million Tweets referencing Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and related terms/hashtags. Social media chatter built steadily throughout the following week, with more than 460,000 related Tweets – most of which condemning Susan G. Komen – posted. Though after three days Komen reversed its initial decision and said it would continue previous funding plans, the online crisis had caused major damage to Komen’s reputation.

While these examples are some of the more notable crisis scenarios of recent memory – whether caused by organizational decisions and subsequent fallout or by the actions of a few terrible, disturbed individuals – the point is that planning for all levels of crises is imperative. To get started with your planning, move step-by-step through the following.

  • Establish an internal crisis planning and management team
  • Identify and rank scenarios and potential triggers, with the worst scenarios imaginable ranking at Level I
  • Develop an internal and external (media) crisis contact list
  • Develop template plans for “most likely to happen scenarios”
  • Develop a master plan for “Titanic” scenarios, or those scenarios that are truly tragic/potentially damaging to your reputation
  • Identify and educate initial crisis team(s) for the most pertinent scenarios
  • Media train pertinent spokesperson(s)
Crisis situations may or may not occur. The old adage of “better safe than sorry” should always be practiced, however. Ensure you have a seasoned communications team to guide you in planning and – in the event of an actual crisis – implementation. By planning ahead, your picnic may not avoid bad weather, but you will be better prepared with an umbrella. 

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