All too often, we see companies reacting (sometimes badly) to crises with last minute communication plans and panicky spokespersons. Since no company can predict or prevent potential crises, what needs to be done?

When we talk about crisis communications, we must first understand that there should be a program in place within the company, that all stakeholders are ready for. Just as office buildings often conduct fire drills regularly, a company needs a communications fire drill in place.

What makes a good crisis communications program?

First, ensure there is a program of crisis prevention in place. Managers and frontliners of all departments of a company should keep their ears to the ground, and understand the pulse of the marketplace. There should be a culture of encouraging comments and advice from all employees within the company. All these constructive feedback should be consolidated into a FAQ (frequently asked questions) database that anyone can read and contribute to. Make the FAQ database similar to a corporate wiki, where authenticated contributors can all edit and add to the knowledgebase.

Second, there should be a crisis communications program in place. All stakeholders should be educated on what this program is, and what would activate such a program. For example, what would be crisis be, and what would a non-critical event be. The program should also highlight who should an employee turn to in a crisis? Who can be a spokesperson? Who would be involved parties to provide educated and truthful answers?

Third, all employees should be actively engaged in scheduled and unscheduled communications fire drills, so that any employee on board should be as ready as the top executives. In such drills, simulated crises can be set up so that all stakeholders know what needs to be done, and how to go about it. Unscheduled communications fire drills will be useful to ensure that employees really are prepared for any eventuality. The reason why frontliners are just as important as the top executives (who are often designated spokespersons) is that the media often would interview your frontline employees, and without a proper crisis communications program in place, your fronliners will be caught embarrassingly off guard.

Fourth, remember that your Public Relations (PR) agency is your strategic partner in helping you define, design, and deploy a crisis communications program. It is a holistic program that addresses external communications when a crisis occurs, and more importantly, provides an internal educational program that helps all your employees become acutely aware of how best to handle a crisis, even before it occurs.

A crisis cannot be predicted, much as natural calamities cannot be. However, being prepared for all possible eventualities, is critical. Don’t be caught off guard, be prepared.

Copyright(c) 2011 Seamus Phan. All rights reserved.