How to Create a Crisis Communication Plan

Written by: Cassandra Bailey

Communication through a crisis situation is most effective when it is clear and consistent.  Creating a plan with primary messages, delivery methodologies, and regular cadence can make all the difference in ensuring that communication is thoughtful and strategic.  Communicating in a way that is reactive can actually create more stress, confusion, and uncertainty. Here is our proven process for creating a crisis communications plan:

Identify Your Audiences 

There are five audiences in any crisis situation: customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and the industry at large.  Each one is important and must be recognized in order to ensure that everyone is getting messages that are informative and compelling.

The five audience types are customers & clients, investors, partners, centers of influence, and employees.

Know Their Worries

Each one of the audiences has different concerns and stresses and want to know different things.  Customers may want to know that they’ll be able to continue to get your products or services. Employees may want to know if they can work from home or if their plant will continue operating.  Investors may want to know that the leadership team has a plan and that their investment is safe. Suppliers will want to know if the company will continue buying supplies. The industry will want to know if the company is strong enough to survive and possibly even take on more customers.  These are just some ideas. Until we think about their concerns, we can’t address them.

The five types of content are written, visual, audio, video, and experiential.

Figure Out How They Get News and Information

Each audience will receive information differently.  There are five types of content delivery that should be considered in the plan: written, visual, video, audio, and experiential.  From there, there are also different delivery tools, including phone calls, meetings, email, social media, text messages, and others. Be thoughtful in how you develop the messages you want to deliver and choose the methodology for delivery carefully.

Engage People with Influence

The leadership team cannot and should not bear the responsibility of all communication.  That’s why it’s important to incorporate two levels of communication for most audiences. For instance, employees report that their job satisfaction is most related to their direct manager.  They look to and trust that person, which is why they will turn to their manager with questions and concerns that they won’t ask about on an all-company conference call. Similarly, customers will most likely know and trust their account managers, salespeople, or project managers.  These people have a tremendous amount of influence over whether messages are delivered clearly and consistently. For that reason, there must be a level of communication just with them in order to ensure that the messages get to the end audiences effectively.

Create a Cadence

Not every audience will want to receive communication every day, but some will.  Figure out how often you should be proactively sending messages or talking with audiences.  For instance, some key investors may want to get daily calls or emails. Some customers may want updates every other day, particularly if there is a delivery challenge.  Some employees, particularly managers, might want weekly updates. Since crisis situations have so much uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain: people will want updates.  Be thoughtful about them and you’ll find yourself spending less time and energy responding to questions and putting out fires.

If you need help creating a crisis communications plan, we’re here for you. You can contact our team of experts and learn how to create your own plan with our downloadable worksheet.

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