How to Develop a Crisis Action Plan

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On the surface, a company crisis can sound fatal. But it doesn’t have to be if an effective crisis management process is properly planned and executed effectively. No one knows exactly how or when they might be impacted by a crisis.

But the same guidelines for crisis management can be applied to most circumstances. Businesses can take these guidelines and prepare various crisis management plans to apply to their industry or niche. Read on to find out how to implement a crisis management process and develop a plan in the event that one arises.

On the surface, a company crisis can sound fatal. But it doesn’t have to be if an effective crisis management process is properly planned and executed effectively. No one knows exactly how or when they might be impacted by a crisis.

But the same guidelines for crisis management can be applied to most circumstances. Businesses can take these guidelines and prepare various crisis management plans to apply to their industry or niche. Read on to find out how to implement a crisis management process and develop a plan in the event that one arises.

What is a crisis?

A business crisis is an unexpected event, circumstance, or public news story that can threaten the credibility, reputation, or maybe even the survival of a company. In our recent blog, Common Mistakes Businesses Make Dealing With a Crisis, we also outline some of the most publicized crises. This includes the infamous ‘Tide Pod Challenge’, for example. 

The important thing to remember is that a crisis can come from multiple different sources. It doesn’t necessarily have to be internal, nor does it always come from top-level management. It can be something as simple as a social media review or perhaps a disgruntled employee.

There are eight different types of crisis: natural disaster, technological crisis, confrontation, malevolence, organizational misdeeds, workplace violence, and rumors. As a result, some are unavoidable, but others are preventable. This also means that the crisis management processes and guidelines are going to vary depending on the circumstances, underlining the importance of strategizing various crisis management plans.

What is crisis management?

Crisis management refers to the steps a company takes to manage and mitigate a crisis. In our blog post How to Create a Crisis Management Plan, we detail everything a company should consider to create crisis management plans.

They allows companies to spring into action and execute a rehearsed crisis management process, should a crisis ever occur. Not only does it allow the crisis management team to make strategic decisions, not in the heat of the moment, but it allows them to recognize the signs of a crisis unfolding.

Who can be affected by a crisis?

A crisis may seem like something that would only affect huge corporations or companies in the public eye. But a crisis can happen to even a 5-employee company or a single person. A ‘crisis’ doesn’t necessarily need to happen on a nationwide scale or even in front of a large public audience. Different types of companies will be vulnerable to different types of crises. This is why crisis management plans should be very specific the risks that face the industry or niche.

How to prepare for a crisis

In order to be able to spring into action during a crisis, crisis management plans should be devised before one occurs. You can read all about how to do that in our recent blog post. This will involve: defining crisis criteria, identifying a chain of command, creating response plans, establishing internal and external communications, and training.

The difference between crisis management and action

Crisis management is the preparation, monitoring, and training for crisis response. The action is the actual implementation of the plan when a crisis is unfolding. Not every company will face a crisis that will ultimately require an action response, but everyone should have a crisis management plan.

How to implement a crisis management plan

Crisis management involves anticipating and preparing for various scenarios that are likely to affect you or your company. This will involve: defining crisis criteria, creating a crisis management team, conducting risk assessments, and implementing the following steps.

Spokesperson

During a crisis it’s essential that the company communications and public addresses are consistent. In many contexts, it’s more beneficial to identify one person to be the voice of the company to avoid contradictions.

Internal and external communications

When a crisis unfolds, it’s easy to assume that external communications should be prioritized. However, the concerned people within your company need to be briefed also. Internal communications will differ to the external.

Social media

When a crisis unfolds in the public eye, people are often watching social media. This is because it is an instant and far-reaching method to broadcast an acknowledgement, update, or an apology. Additionally, a crisis can unfold quickly on social media and maybe even change the narrative. A designated person on the crisis team should keep an eye on social media conversations to monitor any shifts.

How to execute the action part

The important thing about taking a strategy from the planning stages and into action is following the training. The response and steps you implement before a crisis are made strategically and with a clear head. So while the plan will need to be adapted to an extent to suit the context, you should follow the training closely and not stray from the pre-agreed plan of action.

What not to do

A big part of ensuring a successful crisis response is by identifying what not to do. Avoiding common mistakes is just as important in your guidelines for crisis management as the proactive steps. Below are the pitfalls that people are at risk of falling into during a crisis.

Lie

It may seem obvious to not lie, but a crisis can often bring out a fight or flight response that impairs judgment. One of your first instincts might be to stretch the truth or to blame an external factor. But if a crisis unfolds in the public eye, more people are going to take an interest and try to catch you in a lie. Don’t try and make something up or defer blame to a friend, another company, or one of your employees. Even an attempt to stretch the truth will likely come to light. Honestly is always the best policy.

Defer blame

Not all crises are black and white. That means in some complex circumstances, you may want to consult your legal counsel before saying anything publicly. But in situations where it warrants a swift apology, this will always go further than staying silent. For example, if someone is guilty of making an insensitive comment, being defensive will not help to mitigate that crisis. In the event of a non-debatable crisis, you will need to assume 100% responsibility —you can’t claim naivety or ignorance.

Speak too quickly

During the crisis management process, a response needs to be swift, but not so quick that it causes further damage. It needs to be thoughtful and carefully considered. It’s important to know exactly how to respond — sometimes the right response is to step back for a bit longer and don’t say anything. You might choose to find a professional to help guide every communication that comes out of your mouth. From that point forward all it takes is one misspoken quote and that could be the nail in your coffin. A crisis management team or PR agency can help make it much faster and less painful. You might even end up being a better company because of it.

Testing and updating

A crisis management plan may work in theory, but it’s essential to conduct mock crisis responses. You may find that part of your response is not efficient or effective. Then you can review and update as necessary. You may also need to update your plan based on examples you can learn from other public crisis responses.

Closing thoughts

Guidelines for crisis management should be implemented in any company, regardless of whether they believe they are likely to fall victim to a crisis. Preparation is key, and by having the crisis management plans prepared ahead of time, you will be able to come through the other side. Crisis management is about being prepared, practicing, and learning from the training.

Find out how Otter PR can help build a crisis management plan by booking a free consultation.

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty

Hollie Geraghty is a versatile media professional with four years’ experience across journalism, content writing, social media and public relations. Specializing in entertainment, culture and the arts, she has written for national and regional publications in both print and online. In her spare time, she can be found ticking films off her watch list, and planning new travel destinations.
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