The Importance of Having a Crisis Communications Plan in Place for Emergency Management for Business

Crisis communications is often ignored by businesses until – quite suddenly – a public relations emergency erupts in the media, creating havoc with business bottom lines, personnel and brand recognition.

Disasters happen to companies at all levels. The multinational corporation British Petroleum (BP) suffered immense legal, fiduciary and public relations damages when an oil rigger exploded and continued to burn in the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, just off the shores of Louisiana and Alabama in 2010.  The Ebola outbreak at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which spread from a misdiagnosed patient, Duncan, to healthcare workers treating him, is an example of a regional organization with a national public relations crisis which took several weeks to unfold in the media. These scenarios are the reason why it is so critical to have a crisis communication plan firmly in place.

Being caught off guard by the media can be an overwhelming experience for many, even those with an executive presence in the organization.   Company and organizational leaders as well as individual brands may feel the ill effects of negative publicity in sales slowdowns and loss of profits.

In order to avoid this, put a crisis management plan in place. This will ensure that all inquiries from the press are routed to the correct media spokesperson for the company or organization. This company representative has had crisis communications training and knows exactly what to say to the media upon contact.

Here are the top three errors companies and organizations make in during times when crisis communications skills are essential:

1.    Being Unprepared, Thinking “It Won’t Happen to Us”
Crisis may include damage to property or persons – caused by explosions or fires, or, it can involve a range of things from a dramatic drop in stock prices to an employee being exposed with Internet pornography on the job, white collar embezzlement, or secret affairs gone public.  At any time there may be an explosion of information circulating in the media, so it is essential to have a strategy in place beforehand.

Companies are in denial if they do not have a ‘what if’ plan firmly in place.  Having unprepared company spokespersons speak to the media and saying inaccurate things to the press creates instant confusion. Or, worse – companies and organizations with public relations problems that choose not to comment – are strung out to dry by the media eventually.  Saying nothing does not make the media go away.  Bad news for the media is like cocaine to a drug addict.  They will keep digging until they get their story from other sources. Then it appears as though the company or organization in question has something to hide. Lack of a crisis communications strategy during media events can lead to a drop in reputation and popularity of brand.

2.   Having the Wrong Spokesperson
The best spokesperson for a crisis is usually not the CEO, unless this person has had crisis communication training and has experience speaking to the media.  Lawyers should not be writing media talking points. The assigned media spokesperson should have media training and know how to calmly and credibly deliver strong and appropriate responses to questions from the media.  Using the right words is only part of being credible.  The media spokesperson will also represent the image of the company and should look professional and have excellent public speaking skills so the company’s statements sound credible and have an impact on the public’s perception of whether they believe what they are hearing.

3.     Not Communicating With Employees During Times of Crisis Management
Proper management of employees includes informing them when there are significant company or organizational changes impacting them. In some cases, employees’ jobs and compensation may even be on the line during a public relations crisis.

It is critically important to craft the right message for the media and for employees, prior to the rumor mill being started up.   When a company crisis happens today, employees will spread their version of it like an out-of-control wildfire through social media within minutes.  The longer company stakeholders wait to communicate with employees honestly, the bigger the rumor mill will grow. This can lead to misinformation being reported by the media, who regularly scrape social media networks, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for information related to stories.  All of this can be avoided by informing employees in a concise, point-by-point email to company employees about the situation (and how it may impact them) before public media disseminates it.

Be pragmatic about the effects of negative public relations and proactive about media interaction by having a crisis communication plan in place.  Crisis communication is like fire insurance. You hope you never have to use it but you are sure glad you have it when you need it. For more information on creating and executing a crisis communication plan for a business or organization, contact [email protected]. Or visit