Always on the Record, Crisis Communication Planning

Every organization for profit or nonprofit is vulnerable to crisis that can threaten organizational integrity or reputation. Playing ostrich – The day of burring your head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away are gone. Stakeholders will not be understanding or forgiving –Think Chipotle, Lance Armstrong and Bill Clinton to name a few.

As Your Building the plan, remember

Reputation can be destroyed in the court of public opinion.

“no comment” translates “we’re guilty or hiding”

Stick to your message

Train All media calls to be sent to the designated person or department-typically marketing/communications

Train the front line, those that answer the phones early with communication directions.

Communicate early and often internally and externally

Here are 10 Steps to complete, 7 should be completed before a crisis occurs.

If you handle correctly the damage can be minimized.

Crucial in a crisis is tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth.

  1. Anticipate Crises

Intensive brainstorming -all potential crises

In some cases, you know a crisis will occur because you’re planning to create it — e.g., to lay off  or a major acquisition.

  1. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team
  2. Identify Your Stakeholders

Who are the internal and external stakeholders ?

I consider employees to be your most important audience, because every employee is a PR representative and crisis manager for your organization whether you want them to be or not!

  1. Identify Spokespersons

Only they should speak during a crisis, represent the company, make official statements and answer media questions. The spokesperson needs to have the right skills, right position and the right training.

Have a backup Spokespersons.

  1. Spokesperson Training

The spokesperson needs to have the right skills, right position and the right training.

Focus is on preserving your organization. Need a headline to match your message.

All stakeholders, I/E are capable of misunderstanding or misinterpreting information as the media.


Here are two video examples of a good press conference and a not so great press conference.


Not so Great

  1. Develop Holding Statements-based on step 1

Full message awaits the actual crisis, “holding statements,” developed in advance

  1. Finalize and Adapt Key Messages

With holding statements available develop the crisis-specific messages required for any given situation.

What should those stakeholders know?

Keep it simple. No more than 3 Key messages that go to all stakeholders

Each key messages-needs 3 supporting messages

Adapt your message to different forms of media.  example, Twitter 280 character limit.


This is where “Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth” begins. -Give the facts. Don’t over reach and don’t speculate.

If there was a mistake made admit it up front, and begin doing whatever is possible to re-establish credibility and confidence with the audiences.

Never lie, deny or hide your involvement.

If you ignore the situation it will only get worse. (Ostrich)

Look at it from the outsiders view

My view-Don’t let the lawyers make the decisions. While they are good intentioned it may cause the crisis to escalate.

  1. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems-I/E

Use multiple modalities.

Cell, email, text, IM, audio and video messages

Social media. e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, which spreads like wild fire.

Why multiple notification systems. Think about the Virginia Tech campus shooting catastrophe—Email was the sole means of alerting  and not everyone is checking email all the time.

  1. Create Media/Press Release/Utilize Key talking points

What happened and where?

When did it happen?

Who is involved?

Why did it happen?

What is currently being done and any future steps

How did it happen?

  1. Post-Crisis Analysis

What did we learn? What went right, wrong and what could be done better next time ?

 “It Can’t Happen To Us”

Hopefully, that type of ostrich scenario is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

If you love this stuff!
Recommended Books and Web Sites

  1. “Crisis in Organizations: Managing and Communicating in the Heat of Crisis,” by Laurence Barton.
  2. “You’d Better Have a Hose if You Want to Put Out the Fire: The Complete Guide to Crisis and Risk Communications,” by Rene A. Henry