In any industry, the need for a crisis and issues management strategic communications plan to be in place can mean the difference between a Code Blue and a Code Clear.

There is no one “fix all” plan when it comes to a crisis or an issue that you want contained. The response depends on several factors including: impact on the institution/brand; severity of the issue; and impact on your stakeholders.
 
Here’s what you should consider:
The issues management team: Who are they and how can they be reached at a moment’s notice? They are a core team typically consisting of top management, public relations, operations, security and legal. They all should be involved in the advance planning process when mock scenarios are discussed. They should clearly understand their responsibilities and have copies of the most recently updated crisis plan.
What are the potential issues: It’s nearly impossible to detail every potential crisis or issue. However, there are anticipated scenarios that you can prepare communications for such as natural disasters, personnel issues, man-made crisis situations, data breaches and more.
 
Stakeholders: List your stakeholders in order of importance, depending on the situation. Develop the key message(s) for each and determine how and by whom those messages will be conveyed.
Key messages: Develop key talking points, statements, email communications and social posts in advance for various scenarios that can be revised as needed.
 
Communicating with the media: In all scenarios there should be a written statement available to the media. Whether you have a press conference or one-on-one interviews depends on the issue, legal implications, your position and message and more.
 
Designate and train spokespersons: It is not advisable to train people to work with the media in the heat of an emergency. Spokespersons should be trained in advance, making them confident and ready to handle the situation. Designated spokespersons should be knowledgeable, believable, articulate, media savvy and available. Designated spokespeople are the only ones who should speak on behalf of your organization. Depending on the situation, you may want to enlist a third-party authority to speak as well. This could come from an accredited association, the government or a legal or other designated authority.
 
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare: Be prepared with the messages you want to convey, which may not necessarily be direct answers to the questions that are asked. With proper media training, designated spokespersons will know what to do, what not do and how to convey key messages in meaningful sound bites. If your organization does not clearly communicate your side of the story, there’s a good chance the story will not be told accurately. Reporters will respect legal restrictions or a statement that conveys that “we’re still trying to find that out ourselves.”
 
The press conference: Does this crisis/issue warrant a press conference? If so, designate a convenient, comfortable location. Set the agenda and the speakers and, most importantly, make sure that someone is assigned to controlling the flow of the press conference. If the situation is ongoing and has not been resolved, let the media know when they can expect updates. News of the resolution of the situation, with everything back to normal, must be distributed immediately.
 
Monitor social media chatter: It can be an overwhelming task to monitor all social media for negative chatter about your brand. There are a few ways to tackle this. One is to hire a company that can monitor social media channels for you. The other is to identify key websites and assign someone in your organization to monitor those sites. Remember that you will likely never win in what can be the harsh world of social media reaction. Carefully plan how you will respond on social, if at all, and understand that best course of action maybe to take the conversation, particularly negative ones, offline. You cannot nor will you control what people say about your brand in social media.
 
The scorecard: When the crisis or issue has passed, the team should meet and review how communications were handled. Suggestions should be made to correct the emergency communications system, as necessary, and to praise everyone who has done a fine job.
 
Review your communications plan annually: Employees change roles, situations escalate, policies are revised. Review the plan annually to make sure all information is still correct, including contact names, phone numbers and other pertinent details. It will save you critical time in the event of a crisis.
 
Overall, it is important to keep the crisis in perspective. Internally, acknowledge where and how a crisis will affect the company over the long term, but also make clear what areas are unaffected. Point out the company’s strengths. Review other communications efforts to make sure they are appropriate. Suspend anything that may make the company look callous.
 
Finally, begin positioning your company or organization for when the crisis is over. Concentrate communications on steps the company is taking to rectify the crisis. Demonstrate good corporate citizenship through community involvement.