Building an Effective Crisis Management Plan 101
Picture this scenario: a wildfire is threatening an amusement park, and the police have called to instruct the management team to shut down immediately. What do they do? Is the park’s team well practiced? What move, and by which player, sets their crisis plan into action?
This is one of dozens of practice scenarios that author and 30-year public relations (PR) and crisis management expert Edward Segal shares in his recently released book, “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies.”
“You have to cross-train like an athlete does in order to be better prepared for every possible crisis,” says Segal. “Worst case scenarios seem like they’ll never happen, and then they do.”
With Funworld, Segal revisits the crisis management plan (CMP), including the essentials of creating one and how to put the plan into action.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
A CMP isn’t a single set of emergency instructions. Companies need one for every possible scenario, as well as an A, B, C, and D contingency plan, says Segal, “in case your plan is not a good fit for the crisis you are facing.” Appoint a crisis management team that can practice the plan together, find the rough spots, and smooth them out. “A plan you have that you don’t practice is like not having a plan at all,” he says. “You won’t know if it works or if you can slip quickly or efficiently into crisis mode.”
Immediate implementation is key. “As soon as you see, know, or hear something, do something,” urges the PR pro. “Every second you don’t respond is a second you have lost [for] taking action and getting the crisis behind you and returning to normal operations.”
Control the Message, Control the Crisis
Whether the crisis is internal-facing—such as an allegation against an employee or a possible data breach—or public-facing—such as a weather event or a rumor on social media—the steps for managing the crisis are flip sides of the same coin. “The biggest difference between the two is if the media finds out,” says Segal, who urges organizations to be proactive by controlling the message, the timing, and the details. “The sooner you release information and tell the world about your crisis is preferable to having a reporter ‘expose’ a crisis.”
As for social media, Segal advises organizations monitor and pay close attention to what is said about them on every social media platform and then quickly address a complaint or any misinformation. “If you don’t respond, people will assume it is correct. If you see something, quickly issue your side of the story. Be on top of it 24/7 and have plans to respond immediately,” says Segal.
Management should be the foremost expert about the company’s crisis. Prepare a detailed FAQ on everything that is known, or the public should know, if asked about the crisis. Be as frank and objective as possible.
Getting It Right for Next Time
When the crisis is over, try to document every aspect as best as possible to show the process and how it was carried out, even if wrong decisions were made. What lessons were learned along the way? What steps can be taken quickly to help ensure that if another crisis rolls around, the organization will be even more prepared than last time?
Returning to Normal
Segal says it’s wishful thinking that the coronavirus pandemic will conclude in a timeframe to our liking.
“Every crisis has a beginning, middle, and end,” says Segal. Considering all of the unknowns, it is imperative to have a plan, including making employees feel safe, to ensure day-to-day survival.
“Make sure the information you are getting is accurate and the most up-to-date so you can make the most intelligent and informed decisions for the future of your company.”
Megan Padilla is a Minnesota-based writer who covers attractions and travel for magazines and websites.