Crisis occurs in all organizations and hence there should be a robust crisis response plan in place to deal with it. A key component of the crisis response plan (usually implemented by the Emergency Response Team) is to draw up a Crisis Communications Plan (CCP) either in anticipation of a crisis or in the wake of one. Different kinds of crisis could hit an organization, and these crises could be of varying probabilistic occurrences. Hence, the management has to weigh the costs and benefits of investing resources to this exercise before going forward with it. Moreover, irrespective of the nature and intensity of a real crisis, the way it gets projected in the media can have an effect on the way the crisis is perceived by stakeholders. Hence, appointing an experienced Public Relations Officer to take charge of CCP is vital to its success.
A good crisis communication plan will contain the following key elements. First, it should have gotten the endorsement of the Director of Communications. Second, it should contain a list of clearly designated employee responsibilities. The information contained in the plan would have gone through verification and clearance checks. It will include a lits of media contact points and also contain details regarding local public health agencies. The plan will clearly identify who the spokesperson is going to be as well as identifying members of the Emergency Response Team.
The efficiency and speed with which the crisis is dealt with is in itself a key element (and the first step) of a good plan. Later, the drawn up plans need to be communicated to the stakeholders through proper Public Relations procedures. This usually involves publication and coverage of the crisis in media outlets such as newspapers and television stations. In most instances, a crisis situation never gets covered in the media, probably because the story is not newsworthy. It could also be the case that a skilful and expeditious response on part of the Emergency Response Team mitigated the crisis at an early stage that there is no need for press reporting. At other times,
“a crisis may be significant enough that it is both newsworthy and gets attention in the press. But that attention either lasts for a very short period of time, or it is so well handled that the company grows as people see how well they handled the crisis. A key element in making sure that this happens is the development of a crisis communication plan in your organization.” (Crowther, 2011)
Indeed, a brief glance at major corporate scandals in recent years throws light on the role of CCP in public perception of a company’s crisis. For example, the series of recent corporate scandals – Worldcom, Enron, Martha Stewart, etc negatively affected those company’s bottom lines. Whereas examples of excellent crisis management include that of
“Tylenol case, where J&J came out more strongly positioned with the public than they were before the crisis happened. Another great example of how excellent crisis management can build, rather than destroy is the success that former New York Mayor Rudi Giulaini has enjoyed since his excellent handling of the press (and many other factors) during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center”. (www.101publicrelations.com, 2011)
Crisis Communications Planning: Organizing and Completing a Plan that Works, retrieved from <http://101publicrelations.com/crisis-communication.html> on th February, 2011
Don K. Crowther, Key Crisis Communiation Plan Elements, retrieved from <http://publicrelationsideas.com/key_crisis_communication_plan_elements_000403.html> on 24th February, 2011