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In the Heat of a Crisis, Don’t Forget This Crucial Audience — Your Own Employees

Some organizations are so focused on getting statements out to traditional news media and other external audiences that they forget about what is arguably their most important audience — their own employees.

Overlooking your own employees can waste time and cost you money because it is quite often employees who determine how fast and how fully your organization will recover from a crisis.

Reduce Rumors

We know that rumors are the result of communication voids. If we don’t know what’s going on, we tend to come up with our own narratives. Communicating with your employees early and often can reduce rumors. Your best course: Establish your company as the go-to source for information early on or employees will find another source.

Want more reasons? Communicating with your employees in times of crisis can prevent an even bigger crisis from happening. After all, you don’t want to have a communication crisis on top of the operational crisis you’re already dealing with.

In many organizations, employees are the face of the brand to customers. The last thing you want is for your employees to say to your customers, “Heck, we don’t know what’s going on around here. No one tells us anything.”

Employees Can be Your Greatest Advocate

Employees can be great and credible advocates for your organization – but only if they have the right information.

Well-prepared organizations have templates and key messages developed for ALL of their key audiences, internal and external. They think through policies and procedures when things are calm so that they can respond quickly and effectively when they need to. They establish social media policies for their employees and have them vetted by corporate attorneys when things are calm. They build relationships and trust between the organization leaders and their employees.

When a crisis strikes, these organizations can respond quickly and effectively.

Consistent Messages are Key

Another key to effective crisis communication is consistency. Be sure you’re not telling employees one thing and telling external audiences another. Employees read and listen to external messages. And external audiences can easily become aware of internal messages. Message inconsistency between audiences can cause sink credibility for your organization.

In the Digital Age, when every employee has a smartphone and thus the ability to broadcast live video to the entire world, messages can get out quickly.

Planning Process

It’s been said that a plan is nothing but the planning process is everything. That’s certainly true with a crisis communication plan. A good crisis communication plan should have a robust employee communication component. If you are responsible for internal communications, then you are responsible for thinking through the process before a crisis strikes and bringing forth an action plan if you see areas that are lacking.

By doing so now, you can help take the crisis out of crisis communications and unleash one of your most powerful assets — your employees.

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Do You Actually Use Your Crisis Communication Plan?

Paul Barton Crisis Communications

When a crisis strikes, how effective are those carefully crafted crisis communication plans? That question came up in independent conversations I’ve had over the past several months with several well-respected corporate communications professionals.

Following are paraphrased and combined summaries of the varied answers I heard.

Answer #1: When you’re in the midst of a crisis, the last thing you want to do is pick up some 200-page document. There’s no time for that. The training, the practice and the drills you do ahead of time are what helps. The written plan may assist in the drills but it is of little value in the midst of an actual crisis.

Answer #2: The plans themselves are of little value in the midst of a crisis, but the process of putting together the plan is where the value lies. The planning process will uncover the holes in your crisis response. The planning process will help you think through what all needs to be done. Thinking everything through when things are calm will help you react when everything is coming down on you. As Dwight Eisenhower once said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Answer #3: If they are done right, plans are of great value in a crisis. It’s hard to think straight when all hell is breaking loose. Good plans have checklists that can be used during a crisis so things don’t get overlooked and left undone. Some companies create a plan for each team member that is customized to their role. When a crisis hits, each member of the crisis team grabs his or her book and starts working their way through their checklists. Also, having pre-approved templates and messages helps speed the response time.

What Say You?

So, what do you think? Which answer matches your past experiences? Are plans worth the paper they are written on? Is the planning process the real value? Are some plans made for action and others made to rest on a bookshelf? Do you use your plan? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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No. 2 Crisis Communication Mistake: Not Having a Plan or an Updated Plan

Paul Barton crisis communications

Not having a crisis communication plan is like not having a flashlight when the lights go out. Not having an up-to-date crisis communication plan is like reaching for a flashlight when the lights go out and discovering the batteries are dead.

Fumbling in the dark wastes precious time. And time can cost your organization lost sales and damage your brand reputation.

Burying your head in the sand is not a crisis communication strategy. You need a well-prepared and up-to-date plan.


A Well-Prepared Plan

In the rush and panic of a crisis, it’s hard to think clearly. That’s when a well-prepared crisis communication plan can really help you. Ideally, your plan was created when you were calm, cool and collected and had lots of time to think things through.

Write key messages, prepare templates and scripts, define roles and responsibilities, determine key contacts, assemble supplies, and locate meeting space.

Preparing a plan in advance also gives you time to have your corporate attorneys and your senior leadership team sign off on key messaging and your response plan. The review process will go much more smoothly than in the midst of a crisis and having your plan approved in advance will save you hours of time when a crisis does occur.


An Up-to-Date Plan

Many crisis communication plans were developed years ago, often by people who are no longer with your company. Names are outdated, phone numbers have changed, and some procedures no longer make sense.

What’s more, some plans were developed when social media wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Many plans don’t contain a social media policy for employees or a plan to deal with negative social media from key influencers.

Remember that virtually every employee in your company and every customer who comes to your business has the ability to broadcast live video to the world via a smartphone.

Your plan needs to be ready for the Digital Age.


Be Prepared

No one wants a crisis to occur but when it does, and your organization is really counting on you, won’t it be nice to know that you can be at your best?

Take the crisis out of crisis communication. Have a plan. Be prepared. Be a hero.


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The No. 1 Crisis Communication Mistake

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Podcast: Taking the Crisis Out of Crisis Communication

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