A Refresh on the Modern Crisis Plan

Rebecca Courtney, Corporate Communications Director

Crisis communications, specifically its recent evolution and growing need, continues to increase as a topic of interest for the marketing industry and the brands we serve. Hart’s Vice President of Corporate Communications & Content, Jeff Lutz, recently spoke at two industry events, Agorapulse’s 2022 Agency Summit and PRSA’s Central Ohio Chapter’s Modern Communicators Conference, to share his perspective on why the classic crisis plan is “dead on arrival” in today’s transparency-driven world.

Whether you’re looking to refresh your existing crisis plan or build one from scratch, here are a few of our favorite takeaways from his recent workshops:

A lack of preparation will always lead to bad results.

It is nearly impossible for any brand to avoid a crisis situation. However, the majority of companies today are not prepared for today’s crises. This lack of preparedness will leave you scrambling when the moment hits, resulting in emotion-driven decision-making rather than insights, and a reliance on individuals rather than a process. These mishandlings can lead to an uphill perception battle that could take years to correct, a significant loss of revenue that can certainly hurt and sometimes even close a business, as well as many other issues that can put an extreme burden on the company.

Having a proactive, rolling crisis plan that uses real-time data sources, as well as a trained team of crisis specialists, whether internal or external, to analyze present and future “traps” for potential crises, is critical in today’s highly reactive environment.

You must conduct an audit of your risk factors before developing your plan.

Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What “hill” is your business willing to die on? Knowing where brands stand on political and social issues is no longer a consumer demand, it’s an exception. This fact presents both a threat and an opportunity, and the key is determining what your brand’s values are and what you are willing to stand up for.
  • How do I know a crisis is forming right now? In a crisis, time is of the essence. Do you have monitoring mechanisms and a team in place to spot a situation as soon as it appears? If your only “system” in place is someone alerting you via email or a phone call, your crisis has very likely already escalated at that point, making it much more difficult to manage.
  • How have I set up my business to confidently address a crisis? This boils down to your people and infrastructure.
  • How well is your team trained to handle a crisis, and do you have the infrastructure (the tools) in place to support them?

A dynamic plan should take into account your pain points, your people and your preparation.

To ensure these three items are addressed, always include the following elements:

  • Readiness. Readiness is all about infrastructure. Your crisis infrastructure should always include (at minimum!) a master keyword list of all potential issues and triggers that may arise, a cadence structure to determine when and how often monitoring is taking place, a content review process for both organic and paid social media, and an escalation contact tree to ensure the proper team members are notified quickly.
  • Analysis. Technology has undoubtedly made a major impact on how crises are predicted, spotted and addressed, but nothing can replace human intuition and decision-making. It’s crucial to have a dynamic team in place that is consistently monitoring press coverage and social media. As part of the analysis element of your plan, ensure you have both software, such as social listening and keyword monitoring tools, and manual trendspotting and data analysis taking place.
  • Coordination. While readiness is all about infrastructure and analysis is all about tools, coordination is where a process comes into play. Whether your process includes a weekly touch-base on potential landmines or monthly reevaluations of your infrastructure, determining where and when coordination points will happen before and throughout a crisis situation will help create expectations during unexpected movement.
  • Reporting. Although a crisis plan should be structured, data-based and process-driven, it still needs to be flexible. Continuous reporting offers checks and balances, as well as an opportunity to adjust in postmortem discussions following a crisis.

If you’re looking for support in auditing your company’s current crisis preparedness, let’s talk.