Natural disasters can inflict catastrophic damage on companies and local businesses, but after the storm passes, many business leaders find themselves facing a second crisis as they recover. That’s where thousands of businesses find themselves after the devastation of Hurricane Ian.

A crisis communications plan is an important component of any disastrous event. A solid strategy acts as a guide to help you respond quickly to the crisis and recover from its impact. What’s most important is having a plan, focusing on collaboration with your key partners, making time to practice your plan — and evaluating it frequently to implement updates. The faster you react and take control of the narrative during a crisis, the better outcome for your brand in the long term.

Here are some vital aspects to consider when developing and evaluating your crisis communications plan:

Building Your Crisis Management Team

Your crisis management team should include the people that will create and execute your crisis communications plan. Each member should be assigned a specific role, from informing the employees to establishing relationships with target media outlets. It is vital to make sure your team understands and can focus on their crisis roles and responsibilities, whether that be employee communications, media monitoring and outreach, creating reports or collaborating on the next steps. Identifying a key spokesperson is also essential during a crisis. This is the person responsible for representing your organization to the public. A strong spokesperson will ensure your organization’s messages are delivered correctly and swiftly.

Evaluating Crisis Communications Needs

In many cases, a crisis may not be predictable. However, there is much you can prepare for by learning from common crisis situations. Evaluating and identifying your crisis communications needs will enable you to create a crisis communications plan that is an exact fit for your organization. To be proactive, gather your crisis communications management team for brainstorming sessions considering all potential crises that could occur at your organization. Knowing your product or service well enough to anticipate possible issues that may arise will help you react and recover faster. 

Handling a Crisis: When and How to React

The first thing to consider are the facts. What happened? Why did it happen? When and how? Be sure you know the complete version of events before releasing a statement. The second thing you want to do is be responsive and timely. Don’t hide from questions, answer them head-on if there aren’t any legal implications. If there are, consult your attorney immediately before taking any action. If the situation requires a simple apology, do so and express regret. Take accountability and address anyone affected by acknowledging the mistake directly and quickly. It is easier to empathize with an organization when they are open and honest. Your third step in handling a crisis should be to communicate. Depending on the situation, releasing a blanket statement may be necessary. Use every medium available to reach out to your audience, and make sure your message remains consistent across all platforms. Specify what you and your business are doing to ensure the situation is being handled with care and what is being done to prevent it from happening in the future. Be accessible rather than silent.

Updating Your Crisis Communications Plan

After disaster strikes, it’s important to take a step back and assess the post-crisis situation. Was your communications team able to access accurate and updated information to share with your audience? Were key spokespeople prepared to deliver your messages in a calm and collected way? Was your messaging aligned with a coordinated strategy to move forward? Revisiting your response after a crisis can reveal any holes in your crisis communications plan so you can quickly respond to future events as necessary. Revisit and update your crisis communications plan regularly, at least every quarter, including input from all key stakeholders.

Creating and practicing a clear crisis communications strategy helps your organization in numerous ways. Ideally, you may want to have multiple crisis communications plans that prepare you for anything! By determining the key elements of your plan ahead of time…such as processes and responsibilities, you minimize unnecessary confusion and provide the clarity your teams need to address a crisis quickly and effectively. Alignment between values, messages and actions avoids confusion and distrust, especially among employees and external audiences. Having a strategy in place and the key components of your plan identified in advance, frees up time and mental energy for your team to focus on addressing other elements of the crisis.

Handling a crisis can be stressful and uncomfortable, but it’s important to be prepared. That’s where Hemsworth Communications can come alongside your leadership team as a true strategic partner. If you find yourself facing a true crisis, or if you need an updated crisis communications plan, reach out to us at [email protected].