Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan

Welcome to the first week of Fearey’s Fearless Series on CRISIS. During this four week series we’re going to explore various elements of crisis communications planning and response.

Typewriter letters spelling "Crisis"


A crisis isn’t always a big event — sometimes it happens on a small scale. The impacts may be internal or external, but all crises can have lasting damage to the credibility and even the viability of a company. It’s important to remember that every organization will face a crisis at some point. It’s a matter of “when”, not “if”.

The biggest thing to remember when creating a crisis communications plan is when it’s going to be most necessary, which is during a crisis. That means the plan needs to be readily accessible (physically and in your systems), it needs clearly dictate who is leading the response and it must be easy to navigate. If you are spending all of your time during a crisis following a 200-page manual, you’re likely to be set up for failure.

At The Fearey Group, we’ve identified the elements that we believe should be present in every crisis communications plan, no matter your industry or company size. It’s impossible to script a response to every crisis scenario, but an organization should be prepared for any event with a crisis communications plan that outlines:

  • Who is on the crisis communications team
  • Response protocol to evaluate a crisis
  • Efforts to be taken post-crisis
  • Most likely crisis communications events with draft messaging for each scenario


Crisis Communications Team

The crisis communications team should be made up of a manageable group of core individuals within the business that can quickly evaluate each crisis, bring subject matter expertise to the table to help evaluate the possible impact and provide approvals to execute a response.

Generally, the crisis communications team should include:

  • CEO/President
  • Legal Counsel (Inside and Outside)
  • Communications/Marketing Leads
  • Outside PR team
  • HR Lead

Additionally, we recommend including other service line leads or subject matter experts that can be added in/out based on the crisis, including but not limited to the head of IT, Finance, Sales and additional internal departments, as needed.

Finally, a back-up or designee for each of these individuals should be noted in the plan for the inevitable scenario that a team member is on vacation or out of the office and unable to step in during a crisis scenario.


Activation Protocol

In a crisis situation, details are moving quickly, and the situation is not always apparent. The best thing you can have in your crisis communications plan is a clear response protocol that outlines how the plan gets activated and what happens once it’s activated.

Activating the Plan

All potential crisis communications situations should be elevated to a member of the crisis communications team. They will then have the authority to immediately implement a call or in-person meeting of the crisis team to evaluate the potential crisis.

You should designate a conference room and video conference line that can be activated immediately in the event of a crisis.

Response Evaluation Protocol

Once the team is assembled, the first step is to evaluate the crisis and determine its current and potential impacts to the business.

During your first meeting, each member of the crisis team should answer these questions:

  • To your knowledge, what is the current state of the crisis?
  • At the moment, is the impact internal, external or both?
  • What are the impacts to business operations now? In the next 24-hours?
  • Is there any social media or media notice of the incident at this time?
  • What else are you hearing?
  • Should we activate the full crisis protocol?

Once each individual has presented, the group should discuss if the full crisis protocol should be activated and how you move forward. Generally, this will either be to:

  • Continue to monitor the incident but take no action at this time, or
  • Activate the crisis protocol and begin drafting a response for internal and external audiences

Response Plan

If the team decides to activate the crisis communications plan, it is time to start drafting messages for all key audiences and determining how you will respond.

Generally, the response should be considered via the following mediums. This list will change depending on the crisis and its impact:

  • External Response Options
    • Proactive dissemination to media and the public via owned social channels and website
      • Statement distribution via email
      • Press conference
    • Reactive dissemination to media
      • Statement distribution via email only when asked
    • Internal Response
      • Email or Intranet distribution
      • All-hands meeting/video call
      • Department by department meetings/emails

Post-Crisis Reputation Repair

After a crisis strikes, the job of the crisis communications team is not over. In fact, it’s only just begun. Now you must evaluate the impact of the crisis on the business and ask strategic questions, including:

  • How well did we communicate?
  • What are our stakeholders saying now?
  • What’s the impact to our business and our internal team?
  • Where do we still have work to do to get back to our previous reputation/trust?

Appendix of Scenarios

Finally, no crisis communications plan is complete without an audit of the most likely scenarios that will impact your business. This should include internal scenarios, such as company-wide layoffs or a product malfunction, as well as and external scenarios, such as a natural disaster or security breach. Each scenario should have an overview of the possible situation and draft statements for media, social media and website.

These statements and scenarios will not have many details in advance, so leave placeholders where you can later include relevant dates, times and incident descriptions. The goal of these scenarios is to give you something to start with when the crisis is happening around you.

Creating a crisis communications plan before a crisis hits is just step one in planning your response. The next post in this series will look at how to craft the right message during a crisis. In the meantime, if you have questions about creating your crisis communications plans, give us a call.