Kathleen Anthony
Kathleen Anthony

Did your New Year’s resolutions include prepping your client or company for a potential crisis? If not, it should.

2018 was rife with PR disasters for major brands. Facebook, H&M and United Airlines were just a few who took their respective turn in the crisis spotlight. To keep your clients or company off the PR blunders list this year, here are a few key elements and efforts to get your crisis communications house in order.

You have a plan, right?

It’s not just the Amazons of the world that require a crisis communications plan. Every business, from mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500 companies, need to plan for the day that bad stuff happens.

Crisis communications plans come in all shapes, sizes and complexity. But no matter how large or small the company, it’s important to take time to evaluate what crises and issues would be most damaging to your client or business, and then develop an action plan regarding how to respond. Without a plan, even a simple one, a crisis will likely lead to flat-footed failure.

Review and revise your plan

Effective crisis communications plans are not one-and-done endeavors. With content and news being shared at break-neck speed, many times through new mediums and channels that didn’t even exist when you developed your plan, it’s important to evaluate and update your plan at least on a yearly basis. Here are a few key areas to review and revise.

Scenarios. Are your crisis scenarios still relevant? If your client or company recently made a major change in their business — launched a new product line or acquired another company — host an internal discussion or brainstorm to identify potential risks and weaknesses. Develop new scenarios, messaging and steps on how to respond.

Team Members. Having a defined crisis team with assigned roles and responsibilities is vitally important in a crisis. If your client or company has had staffing changes in the last year, revise the team roster and make sure you have everyone in the most appropriate role.

Communication channels. Did you implement a new intranet or launch an Instagram account last year? Make sure you consider those new channels in how you communicate with internal and external audiences.

Monitoring tools. Having effective monitoring tools — Talkwalker, Hootsuite, even Google alerts — in place, and paying attention to them, can help you identify an issue before it becomes a crisis. If you’re not using a monitoring tool, now is the time to start using one or more. Already have a monitoring tool? Evaluate it to make sure there are no blind spots in what it’s picking up.

Internal communication policies. When planning for a crisis, don’t forget your internal audiences, which are just as important as external ones. Providing guidance to staff and having clear policies in place about social posting and interacting with the media are incredibly important. Evaluate these policies every year and review them with employees. Also make sure they’re easily accessible during a time of crisis.

Test your plan. This is often where even the most thorough communicators and companies stumble. Schedule a crisis communications training workshop or drill for your crisis team early this year to test at least one of your scenarios. This will help identify gaps in your plan and keep crisis top of mind for your client or company.

The days are ticking away. Give your clients or your company and yourself peace of mind and refresh your crisis communications plan today.


Kathleen Anthony is vice president at FrazierHeiby, a marketing communications firm in Columbus, Ohio.