Gearing Up for Crisis:

How to Mobilize Your Comms Team When It Counts

A communications crisis may be many things, but it’s always unpredictable — and consequential. The Economist estimates that the eight corporations which suffered a major crisis since 2010 saw a 30% drop in their value, compared to their peer groups who didn’t see a crisis of similar magnitude.

While planning and preparation are essential — for example, getting your messaging in order, mapping a clear work structure and getting a response in place — there will also be plenty of in-the-moment decisions you’ll need to make. 

Chief among these decisions is team structure. By definition, a crisis isn’t business as usual so you and your team can’t continue to work as if it is. Even when using an outside agency (usually a good idea), you still need to be able to mobilize your existing comms team to manage the crisis. 

Because of this, it’s worth investing early in a team structure that can help mitigate the effects of a potential crisis before it arrives. 

Here are four ways to make sure everyone is prepped and ready to manage a crisis situation, along with some hands-on insight from High10 Media Vice President Amanda 

1. Use the experts on hand 

As we’ve written about before [link to our piece], your first step in a communications crisis is about getting oriented, and that means understanding the root of the crisis. For example, does the crisis stem from an executive’s decision making? Or is it a content issue related to your brand or publication? Have you touched a nerve in public culture, or maybe stepped on a political tripwire?

“By unpacking core themes, you can also make quick but accurate decisions on who you need to bring on board,” says Alix. It’s generally worth taking the time up front to make those important early calls.”

2. Build out ‘reaction’ teams in advance

Danish research team Johansen, Aggerholm and Frandsen discovered that when a crisis management team was appointed, internal morale was higher. Organizations experienced “loss of motivation and engagement to a lesser extent than organizations without this strategic instrument.” Additionally, “employees are perceived to be less frustrated, they feel less insecure, and are less afraid in a crisis,” the researchers found. For example, your Crisis Team A might be a mix of colleagues primed on consumer insights, brand launches and public reaction; whereas Team B might include content strategists and social media experts. 

“If you’re working within a larger organization, it may be difficult to pick and choose the best colleagues to tap for a crisis at a moment’s notice,” Alix says. “By doing the prep work in advance, you can set up different ‘crisis response’ teams before it’s crunch time.”

3. Be flexible, dynamic and open-minded 

Your crisis response team member doesn’t need to include benighted ‘crisis experts’ to be effective. In fact, the opposite is often true. Rather than trying to find team members with deep experience in crisis, look for the people who can lead each tactic effectively, freeing senior members up to lead the strategic charge.

As an example, your in-house writer or social media lead could be the person that can work with you on clear, concise talking points, and your media relations teams could be ready to build lists and do some fast outreach.

“A colleague who doesn’t typically work on this type of account or brand, but is well-versed in corporate communication techniques, could be the right person to staff up a crisis team,” Alix adds.

4. Have a plan for reaction protocol

Once your teams are in place, have a plan for engagement. Given the time crunch and pressure, it’s important that your teams know what to expect once they’re called upon. Whether that’s conducting research, delving into talking points or having a step one messaging meeting, the way in which you’ll tackle the crisis shouldn’t come as a surprise. Of course, you may need to change up the way you engage with the public or press on a certain manner, but what you ask from your teams is what you can predict.

By relying on your internal team, and those that know your business, organization or brand best, you are already one step closer to coming out ahead of a crisis situation. Having the right mix of people and a reaction plan in place will ensure you can respond quickly and efficiently to the matter at hand. 

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