Skip to main content

Plan against panic: Navigating a crisis with strategic communications

I’m glad that I did not prepare - said no one, ever. A crisis can creep up on you or hit you hard when you’re least expecting it, forcing you away from your priorities to the uncomfortable position of defense. But you can curb, or at the least, minimize a crisis if you make the time to plan before one even strikes. At ComNet22, Spitfire shared our updated Smart Plan with a room full of savvy communicators to help people plan against a crisis. We broke it down in four easy steps:

Identify and assess risk: Should you really sound the alarm? Start off by determining if the situation is a crisis or rapid response. What’s the difference? Sometimes, indirect happenings impact your work and you have to respond. Let’s say you run a local food bank and news breaks that federal authorities are charged with stealing millions of dollars from food programs serving children with low incomes. Your organization has nothing to do with this but partner organizations see the headlines and call you because they want to know if there is a connection. This is a rapid response situation. A crisis would be if leadership at your food bank was mishandling funds or creating unsafe environments for families coming to the food bank. 

If you end up in a situation that looks like the latter, assess the situation and ask yourself:

  • Does your organization or issue area have strong opposition?

  • Is your issue area popular or hot on the agenda?

  • Does your organization get frequent media attention?

  • Are high-profile people affiliated with your organization?

  • Are you affiliated with organizations or communities who are frequently the target of harassment/disinformation?

  • Are you a large organization that doesn’t have internal systems buttoned down?

If you answer yes to only two of these questions, you likely have a low-risk scenario, but it’s good to have a plan in your back pocket. If you answer yes to at least three of these questions, you are likely threatened by or dealing with a crisis. Time to move.

Assess opposition/internal vulnerabilities: How can you minimize risk ahead of time and set yourself up for success? Understand your opposition. Who has a counter view and objective that is going to make life hard for you? Know them well. Scan their website, social media, comments in the press (set up Google Alerts), and assess their tools and resources, so you can plan how to counter. Assess your vulnerabilities. Look both internally and externally and identify current or potential challenges that are a risk to your brand. Be mindful of potential pitfalls, even looking at past organizational incidences, to consider what potential impacts to prepare for. 

Minimize risk: The best way to avoid a crisis is to minimize the risk that something bad will happen when you are in one. What actions can you take to minimize the chance of something becoming a controversy? Is there anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of an attack? Set up a crisis team for every plan, which may include legal counsel. The team may slightly differ depending on the situation. 

Maximize strengths: If you are caught in the vortex of a crisis, what are the types of things that you may need or want to do immediately? Which of your communications tools have the greatest reach, and more importantly, reach the audiences you need to? Consider who will be your most trusted spokespeople, messengers and partners to share your messages and ease the crisis. Do you have a core group of allies who will show up and speak up for you? With these questions answered, you’ll be positioned to create a message guide for your messengers to jump into action.

Above all. Don’t panic. This too shall pass. It will pass faster if you have done the work ahead of time to minimize your risks, develop a plan tailored for this moment and deploy your strengths.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 at 03:41 am and is filed under Communication planning, Crisis communication and Opposition containment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.