A last-minute scramble when a crisis arises isn’t ideal, especially when the safety of customers and employees is on the line, and not to mention, your brand reputation. As we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, crises happen suddenly and can evolve quickly. It’s critical to be prompt when addressing a crisis to maintain control and avoid any unnecessary speculation or panic. That’s why, long before a crisis of any type occurs, it’s essential to have a crisis communications plan in place. The three essential pieces to any communications plan include:

Specific Messaging:

While it’s impossible to craft messaging for a specific crisis ahead of time, one of the first steps of creating a crisis communications plan is to anticipate the types of situations that could occur, and plan appropriate messaging accordingly. Perhaps your location is prone to wildfires or avalanches. Thinking ahead about what you might say in these situations allows you to prepare for when a crisis actually happens. As details about the crisis unfolds and information becomes available, so, too, will the specific messaging.

During a crisis, the goal is to deliver honest, transparent and accurate information. And remember, you’re not expected to be an omniscient source (often, experts such as public health departments or safety officials are better equipped to share the important details that the public needs), you just need to point your customizers in the right direction. But it’s important to assess the impact of the crisis on your brand and adjust statements as often as necessary, as well as for the specific audiences to which you’re delivering the message (i.e. social media followers, media, etc.).

Communication Roles:

While messaging should remain fluid, the crisis response team, including assignments and roles, should be quickly identified and permanent. Task-related communications roles ensure a clear, concise message comes from only necessary stakeholders. Important roles to consider include a media spokesperson, an on-the-ground point of contact, a social media coordinator and an internal spokesperson (for employees, board members and other stakeholders).

Crisis Flow Chart:

Once communications roles are identified, a crisis flow chart – or communications tree – should follow. This ensures all parties are aware of ongoing activities and decisions being made, as well as ensuring all team members (even those who won’t address the crisis publicly) have the accurate information.

Much like we saw – and are still seeing – amidst the crisis of a global pandemic, consumers want to know that brands care about them and they’re more focused on finding solutions. And, in our digital age in which there are often direct channels of communications for consumers and brands, it’s not enough to slink away from a crisis; brands need to be first to communicate, while also being correct, credible, proactive, respectful and, most importantly empathetic.

Long after a crisis, consumers will remember brands by how they handled the situation. COVID-19 showed, in real-time, how businesses require a human-first approach and that clarity in crisis communication to consumers and employees is a fundamental tenant of building and maintaining trust in businesses and their leaders.