A crisis without a plan is more like a wildfire that feels impossible to control. A marketing and PR crisis plan ensures that you have a hose if the fire comes your way—your crisis team is set, you’ve laid out communication strategies, and you’re ready to execute on the rest, including monitoring for further damage and reflecting on how it can be avoided in the future.
Use these ideas to develop your marketing and PR crisis plan. In our digital world, word spreads fast, so you need to keep pace to mitigate the damage.
Engage the Crisis Team
When you discover the issue, how will you communicate it to stakeholders within the company? Better yet, who will start communicating it to the public? This is done by your crisis team, which should be set up as you build your crisis plan. Keep both internal and external communication in mind as you put together your plan. One important question to focus on is: who can facilitate this most effectively to all of your audiences?
“When putting your crisis team together, it’s a good idea to consider employees in all roles. This could include a head of department that might be impacted by a crisis, such as in sales or manufacturing, and staff with experience in PR crisis management,” suggests business experts at FSB.org.
If a crisis occurs, the pre-determined people immediately step up and take on their roles so one crisis doesn’t turn into another.
Establish the Facts
If you have a large and active audience, they’ll be asking questions quickly. Before you can communicate, you have to understand what’s happening—and fast. The facts will dictate how you handle the next item on your list: accept and communicate.
Stick with the standard 5 W’s to determine what’s happening:
- Who: A social media influencer? A past customer? An ex-employee?
- What: A social media post? A data breach? A bad review gone viral?
- When: How recently did it happen? How long have others known?
- Where: Was it online? From someone within the company? Bad press from a foreign office?
- Why: You may not know this right away, so determine as much as you can with what you have.
The crisis team can run through these questions together; one person may know something someone else doesn’t. As the facts are made clear, you can figure out the best method for communicating.
Accept and Communicate
Now is the time to address everyone, from employees to customers—and it needs to happen quickly. “In today’s real-time world of social media, and with critics everywhere, reputation management matters more than ever and it can be lost in an instant. The tenets of any crisis communication are to be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. When put into action it looks like this: acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize,” explains Lisa Allocca, Red Javelin Communications.
There are plenty of methods for communicating what’s gone wrong, and the severity of the crisis will likely affect who you tell and how you communicate it. In some cases, like a product outage, a few social media posts may be enough to acknowledge and apologize. If it was larger, like an issue with customer privacy, a full press release, board member email, and public announcement may need to be made.
Denote the levels of communication in your crisis plan. Notify stakeholders if it happens, so you know what to do and who to speak with right away.
Once the news is out, it’s time to monitor for: responses, related issues, stock price—watch for anything the crisis may affect. “Once you’ve determined the channel of distribution for your message, monitoring your public’s’ responses is equally critical,” says Amanda Harris, KCD Public Relations.
Monitoring after-the-fact allows you to control the situation and mitigate any potential crises stemming from the current issue. You may need to put a longer communication plan into place if you can’t resolve the issue right away.
Harris continues, “The one question you should ask, ‘Is our PR crisis still a crisis?’ Know that this type of fire doesn’t diminish overnight; sometimes it can take a business months before customer inquiries and questions have diminished.”
Preparing for this may be mean paying for monitoring tools before the crisis happens, dropping other tasks to spend more time on social media, etc. Plan for it, and be ready to execute.
Part of your PR and marketing plan needs to include reflection: how do we stop this from happening again? Something we’ve all seen a lot of companies deal with in recent years are data breaches. After something like this happens, it’s critical that you assess your data storage practices.
For example, it may be wise to move your data over to storage with a third-party organization, that has an entire team dedicated to security: “If you run a small online store, you may want to let customers store their credit card numbers to make their next purchase easier. But once you collect and store that data, you are responsible for keeping it safe. When companies decide instead to not maintain the data—or to outsource the storage to a third party company, like Paypal, they can protect themselves from liability,” explains How Businesses Can Avoid Being The Next Cambridge Analytica Target.
While this doesn’t mean another breach won’t happen, you limit some of the vulnerability. Use this as an opportunity to assess why the crisis happened and how can you patch those holes, regardless of what the crisis was.
Do You Have a Marketing and PR Crisis Plan?
All companies need to prepare for the worst, especially in a world where people have more of a voice than ever before, and online dangers are only getting harder to track and catch. Use these tips to develop your marketing and PR crisis plan—if the time comes for you to put it into practice, you’ll be ready.