With the coronavirus impacting every kind of business, many CEOs, leaders, and entrepreneurs wonder if a crisis communication plan is needed for their organization.  In this blog post, we attempt to answer some of the more commonly asked questions about a crisis communication plan.

Q. What kind of organizations are best served by a crisis communication plan?

Every type of company – from large multinational corporations to small mom-and-pop stores – can benefit from a crisis communication plan.  There’s no plan that is “one-size-fits-all”; each plan should be customized to the needs of that business.  Larger companies will typically have a more robust plan with several elements, action-steps and people involved.  Smaller organizations may only have one or two people executing the plan.

Q. Who “owns” the plan?

Any crisis that besets an organization is ultimately the responsibility of that organization’s leader. He or she will be the person leading the response during the crisis.  As such, it makes sense that the head of the organization, whether that’s the CEO or the owner, should be the person responsible for “owning” the organization’s plan. It should be his or her responsibility to put the necessary resources into the development of the plan and making it a top priority.

Q. Who should develop the plan?

Once the decision has been made to put the resources toward developing a crisis communication plan, the leader should then consider who would be best for the development of the plan.

The best crisis communication plans are strategic, easy to implement, easy to adjust and developed with care. 

They must be developed with input from every facet of the organization.  They must have the buy-in from the chief executive, the executive team and every other leader within the organization.

Because of these requirements, organizations should consider partnering with a PR professional or a PR agency. PR professionals and agencies are uniquely qualified since they deal almost exclusively with managing public perception, the media, external and internal audiences, and message development.

More information about public relations and the role it can serve is available at the Public Relations Society of America.

Q. What are the key elements of a crisis communication plan?

Crisis communication plans come in a variety of forms.  But at its base, every plan should include these key items:

  • Roles & Responsibilities – The plan should identify the specific role each leadership member will take when a crisis hits. Who will be the spokesperson for the media?  Who will be communicating with customers?  Who will be in touch with government officials? Individuals or teams should be defined so that each player/team knows what the other is doing.
  • Internal Leadership Communication – Your plan should include how the company’s leadership team will communicate with each other should they be separated and not able to be in the same location at the same time.
  • Key Audiences & Community – Your plan should be comprehensive enough to consider your entire community. This can include your key stakeholders, influencers, customers, employees, and others you regularly do business with. Including the entire scope of your audiences – along with up-to-date contacts for everyone – is imperative.
  • Values-Based Message Framework – While you may not know exactly how a crisis will impact your organization, you do know what your company stands for. Your company values will be utilized in the messages you send out, as they will be the core principles that guide you through the crisis.

Q. What does a crisis communication plan cost?

It varies.  Large organizations will require a more complex and robust plan. If you decide to partner with an outside PR agency, the fee will likely exceed six figures. Smaller organizations partnering with a PR professional or agency could expect a fee ranging from $20K and up.

It’s important to remember that a crisis communication plan is an investment and a form of insurance. It protects your brand and shields your business from harm.  Crisis communication expert Andrew Gilman provides a great perspective: “The secret of crisis management is not bad vs. good, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.”

Q. What should be the outcome of a crisis communication plan?

During a crisis, none of us know all the answers.  Neither do we know how things will end up.

A crisis communication plan does not ensure everything will go perfectly from execution to completion.  But it does offer a way to better navigate the uncertainty of a crisis. 

There are specific action steps to take and key messages to deploy.  The plan provides a framework for how an organization must act during the crisis.  Without a plan, organizations will find themselves grappling to get their arms around what to do, how to do it and what to say.

With a strategic crisis communication plan in place, organizations are better prepared to respond to the threat.  This can help bring stability to customers, employees and other important stakeholders.  It can also protect your brand from unneeded criticism by the media or your competition.

Q. Is it too late to have a crisis communication plan?

No.  Although the coronavirus is here and businesses have been interrupted, it’s not too late to frame out a plan and start communicating effectively.  In fact, here are some tips you can use right now to better communicate during this crisis.

Q. Where’s the best place to start?

O’Dwyer’s, a leading trade publication for the PR and marketing profession, has an excellent list of crisis management firms.  This is a good place to start.

During these chaotic times, I am happy to answer any questions or provide additional guidance.  You may call me directly for a free consultation or a discussion at 404-270-1010.

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