Crisis Communications Planning Tips

By Echelle Rutschman, APR, Fellow PRSA posted 09-13-2018 06:51 PM


Today’s 24/7 media environment gives an immediate and constant voice to stakeholders. The information they share can be just as consequential as journalists reporting facts. Our organizations need not only a strong crisis communications plan but also strong issues management daily practices. Here are some tips for helping your organization prepare for and weather crisis situations.

1. Craft a crisis communications plan (or update it).

2. Get a seat at the table where organizational and operational risks are discussed (risk management meeting, etc.).

3. Maintain 24/7 on-call status for the public relations staff.

4. Brainstorm potential issues and situations; categorize and prioritize them, focusing on safety first. Look back at past crises. Interview leaders about risks and fears.

5. Put it all in writing; during a crisis, it can be hard to remember everything you need to do.

6. List and prioritize your stakeholder groups. (Employees and people served are No. 1 ALWAYS.) Begin building strong relationships with each of these people NOW.

7. Imagine the situation — walk through each step from each stakeholder’s point of view. Formulate typical scenarios.

8. Create a list of necessary activities for each group and begin to match up PR roles and tasks during a crisis. Think about channels and tactics you would want to use. Work ahead of time to train volunteers who can help you, if needed.

9. Create “issues folders” with materials that can help during a crisis. Include:

  • Fact sheets about the issue
  • Talking points
  • Potential spokespeople
  • B-roll
  • Third-party endorsers, quotes
  • Scripts

10. Make sure your crisis communications plan is practical. Have call trees ready, text groups, a secure team site, an app, etc. Include checklists for various roles during a crisis such as a to-do list for the person setting up a customer hotline.

11. Maintain your plan elements digitally, but also keep a notebook with the plan, in case you’re operating in disaster situations.

12. On a daily basis:

  • Monitor your issues/potential issues daily (environmental scanning). Read your trades. Follow chatter on social media channels.
  • Pay careful attention to amateur reporters and agitators. Build relationships by engaging with them as you would a professional journalist. Respond and correct promptly.
  • Subscribe to a news monitoring service. Be thoughtful about your search terms.
  • Monitor your peers, and competitors, too.
  • Do a regular news roundup for your organization’s leaders. Point out trends you see.

Following these practices can help you and your organization effectively manage the crises that inevitably occur.




03-05-2019 09:02 AM

Am attempting to enter the field of public relation and was winding what is included in a crisis management plan; I would create a mock plan to become familiar with it.
Thomas McGovern Jr.

01-27-2019 03:16 PM

I think this is a very comprehensive and effective list of tips. I believe that the monitoring process, which public relations practitioners must participate in should be an active and on-going scan of organizational areas of vulnerability that does not simply end once the crisis at hand has been responded to. Constructing crisis profiles is also a very helpful practice. As crises are unpredictable in nature and come in various forms, each requiring different aspects and characteristics to be present in the organization's response.

01-14-2019 12:39 PM

Great follow tip Nancy. Need to do a follow-up to determine what worked and what didn't.

12-14-2018 08:24 AM

Conduct a Post Mortem. Following an issue or crisis, be sure to have a post mortem among the key participants to discuss what went well and where there are opportunities for improvement. Be honest. Be critical. And document the opportunities so that the issues/crises are handled better in the future.

09-24-2018 02:48 PM

Excellent tips, Echelle. Anyone interested in digging a little deeper into issue management should check out the Issue Management Council.