Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Social Media

Five Essentials for Your Crisis Communications Toolkit

By Melissa Baratta | On April 17, 2014

When a crisis breaks, things accelerate quickly. It takes only minutes for a scandalous tweet to end up as top news on Huffington Post, and only one reporter to post a story about something negative or controversial on your company for it to take off in the media like wildfire. In today’s 24/7 media cycle, you need a solid response plan in place well in advance in order for your organization to react immediately – if you begin developing a response plan once you’re in the midst of a crisis, you’re already too late.

Luckily, putting together a crisis communications plan can be fairly simple, and will ensure you’re prepared if the unexpected occurs. Below are five essentials that should be in every crisis communications toolkit:

1.    Scenarios

The first step when building your toolkit is to determine all potential crisis scenarios that could occur. This way you’ll be able to develop effective, customized responses for crises that could impact your brand. If you’re a software company, think about scenarios like: a bug makes users vulnerable to hackers (Heartbleed Bug, anyone?), the company is accused of copyright infringement by a competitor, or a high ranking executive is caught in an embarrassing situation.

Each scenario should include a response plan – will you proactively put out information, or just respond reactively to inquiries? What is your social media strategy? Which tools will you use to monitor the media throughout the crisis? Where will your “war room” be? The more prepared you are for each situation, the better.

2.    SWAT Team & Communications Tree

Every toolkit needs a team to execute it. The team should include key company spokespeople, as well as human resources, public relations and select management teams – all of whom are aware of their roles & responsibilities during a crisis. This will ensure things are completed quickly and no one is duplicating efforts.

 3.    Messaging Documents

Update your messaging documents regularly based on changes in the media landscape, new product developments, employee changes and environmental updates. The more well-versed your team is with up-to-date messaging, the faster you can pull together statements, respond to media inquiries and handle a crisis when it hits.

4.    Press Release Templates / Holding Statements

It’s helpful to have a couple templates prepared for the most likely crisis scenarios – these could be either press releases (if you intend to put out a release for that scenario), or holding statements for the website or media inquiries. The language can be vague and include placeholders for specifics, but when you’re under the gun, it’s much easier to update and finalize an existing statement than it is to start from scratch.

5.    Social Media Responses

A social media response plan, complete with sample tweets, Facebook posts and maybe even a short blog post, is just as important as a traditional media plan. Most customers, media and other stakeholders will take to social media first to find answers before they look anywhere else, so be prepared with a plan (who’s monitoring and responding on social media during this time?) and approved social media messaging.

For more tips on crisis response, check out Affect’s white papers and tip sheets at Affect.com.

What other things do you keep in your crisis toolkit? Share in the comments below!

Melissa Baratta

Melissa is a Senior Vice President at Affect, where she uses her extensive background working with technology and healthcare companies to raise her clients’ brand profiles and position them as thought leaders in their respective industries. As an expert in stakeholder communications, she is adept at helping clients develop creative ways to communicate thoughtfully with their key audiences. Prior to joining Affect, Melissa served as Managing Director for Ricochet Public Relations.