Is your crisis communication manual up to scratch?

I’ve helped some major international companies with their media training and crisis communication training over the years. When we develop a crisis communication training programme for a client we ask to take a look at their crisis communication manual to help with creating the scenario. I’ve often been amazed at how poor these manuals are. It seems that crisis communication is still the “Cinderella” of crisis management planning. Usually the companies in question have excellent operational plans and manuals for crisis situations, but inadequate crisis communication plans and manuals. Key issues I’ve found with crisis communication plans include:

  • Lack of clarity in processes and procedures.
  • Lack of clarity around the composition and roles and responsibilities of the crisis team.
  • Lack of useful items such as templates, forms, boilerplate copy, etc.
  • Manuals consisting of pages and pages of dense type so that any useful information is lost in a “grey wall” of text.

As a result, essential information is often vague and inaccessible. Unsurprisingly, these manuals usually end up gathering dust on a shelf and rarely used in crisis situations. In contrast, good manuals will:

  • Keep text to the minimum.
  • Clearly identify what constitutes a crisis and when crisis communication procedures should be implemented. Crises may be categorised according to severity and “newsworthiness”, and this may lead to different protocols for handling them.
  • Make sure essential processes and procedures are highlighted in tables, etc., that really stand out.
  • Make sure that the crisis team is clearly identified and that everyone\’s roles and responsibilities are clear.
  • Include useful time-savers such as lists to fill in, for example a media log; lists of for example local media, local glaziers, telecoms providers, food delivery companies, etc.; template news releases for key potential scenarios; up-to-date boilerplate copy about the company, products, services, raw materials, key people, etc., as appropriate for the company in question.

In large organisations with say a global headquarters, regional and / or divisional headquarters, local sales offices and local manufacturing facilities, it is essential to have a clearly-defined communication protocol so that everyone, from an operator in a plant to the CEO knows what is expected of them. Of course, in these days of ubiquitous IT systems, it makes sense to have the crisis communication manual available electronically, providing easy editing and access to an up-to-date document. However, it is important not to forget that an incident may require you to evacuate the site, in which case it may be useful to keep the manual “in the cloud” for access from anywhere and access on mobile devices. You may also have no access to IT, so always keep a couple of copies of the latest version of you crisis communication manual with the other essential items in your “war chest”. If you would like a review of your crisis communication manual or would like one created, simply contact Steve Gunn.

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