How To Write A PR Crisis Plan
It seems these days a PR crisis is never too far away - whether you're the Prime Minister or a small retailer, it's crucial you have a foolproof crisis plan in place to ensure your backs are covered in times of crisis and rash decisions aren't made under pressure. Writing a crisis plan may seem terrifying, but once you have it in place, you're guaranteed to have one less thing to worry about should a crisis hit your business. Follow these easy steps to identify your best practice in case of emergency.
Identify Potential Threats
Threats can appear in all shapes and sizes, both online and in the real world, and you may have encountered a few in the past. A threat does not need to be huge to be considered as a part of your crisis plan, and could simply be a troll or negative review online that needs to be handled. However, a crisis plan is usually in place for the bigger problems. Start from the very bottom (most likely a negative review) and work your way up to identify what your biggest threat could be. It may be difficult to think negatively about your business or public image, however, these threats may not always be your fault. Think about slander from rival businesses, what they say may not be true, but you would still need to reply to comments made to reassure your clients and customers whilst protecting your public image.
Form a Hierarchy
Once you have your threats identified, it's important to put them in order of least harmful to most harmful. Some threats may cross over, and that's absolutely fine, they will simply be on the same level of your eventual crisis plan. It should be quite obvious which threats should go where within your scale. Your least severe threat should be trolls or negative comments, whilst the largest should be a national, or even international, PR crisis e.g. the British horse meat scandal of 2013, which impacted a number of companies and hit the media headlines for weeks and months once the news broke; some companies are still tarnished with the reputation they gained from the scandal.
Appoint a Crisis Manager
Your crisis manager needs to be a person who you trust enough to manage your reputation in times of crisis. This could be a key member of your marketing or PR team, or you could hire an external agency to manage this on your behalf, who will more than likely have an in-house crisis specialist. It would be beneficial to everyone for your crisis manager to be involved in the writing of your crisis plan so they are up to speed with the protocol should it be needed quickly, and will probably also be able to advise on the content of the plan itself. This person needs to be reliable, they must understand the business and PR itself, and must be contactable on short notice at all times. I would personally advise you avoid appointing a new member of staff as a crisis manager unless they are an expert or have worked in your field of expertise previously. It may also be an idea to have relevant members of staff or external marketing professionals to sign the document to confirm their understanding and willingness to comply.
Write the Contents
It may sound odd, but the best way to think about writing your crisis plan's content is to think of it like a weather report. Think of your threat scale as a thermometer, with the lowest level threats at freezing point. At freezing point, you'd be advised to wear a jacket but would be under no extreme measurements. Similarly, a negative comment isn't too much of an issue and is likely to happen at some point; create a way to ask how you can rectify the situation over social media to let your clients know you are fixing the issue, but don't panic over the situation. As the scale increases, think more about how you would need to manage the situation. For a small PR crisis e.g. a disgruntled ex-employee, you may want to think of a statement you can post on social media to share that you are looking into the situation and have it under control. Larger threats are harder to plan for, but you can still have a plan of action in place. Have templates or chunks of statements ready to take to the press and provide to CEOs, MDs, and other directors of the company. You will not be able to personally reply to every incoming tweet or Instagram message, so think of a way to answer a number of questions in one go; could you write a quick FAQ on your website to answer the most common questions?
Once you have written your crisis plan, it needs to be stored in an accessible location for all appropriate staff and external agencies or freelancers to access quickly and easily. If you have a PR or marketing team in-house, it's vital that your new starters on that team are briefed in to the crisis plan as a part of their induction. If you have a number of clients within an agency, make sure new staff members involved with the account know how to access the crisis plan and have an idea on how to tackle smaller threats. Materials could be stored online for ease of access, either as part of a brand guidelines pack or a standalone document. I advise storing as part of a shared folder including every person who could potentially need to see the plan at a moment's notice e.g. bosses, marketers, appointed PR professionals and board members.
Carrying Out the Plan
Hopefully you will never need to use the plan to handle more severe threats, however, should the time arise, stay calm and do not stray from what has previously been agreed or it could cause confusion and increased panic across your team. It is worth remembering that sometimes it is best to stay quiet for a time, especially after releasing an official statement. Bear in mind that the public know a lot less than you do, and whilst you need to answer their questions, they may not need to know every detail of the incident, especially if nobody has been hurt and the issue is internal. Try not to engage with fake news or slander, and try not to get involved with anything or anyone who may want to twist your words or actions.
Crisis plans are created to cover your back and are an important material to have for your business, but may not always be required. Please remember to use sense and logic when dealing with a crisis, and if you do not feel you can handle the situation yourself, there are plenty of experts out there to help you through the process.
Should you have any questions about handling a social media or PR crisis, or would like to discuss a bespoke crisis plan for your company, please get in touch.