It’s a question that we don’t want to ask, for fear of jinxing ourselves, but the truth is everyone is vulnerable to a crisis. By definition, a crisis is a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention, or one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome. Whether the crisis affects you personally, threatens your business operations or impacts the entire community, preparedness and response are key to minimizing damage.

Just this week, Delta came under fire for its handling of a computer network malfunction that left the airline inoperable while their systems were down. Thousands of flights were cancelled, disrupting air service around the globe and leaving passengers and flight crews stranded.

During the crisis, communications to passengers and flight crews was nearly nonexistent. Delta’s CEO went on record with CNN, citing the company’s inability to communicate internally and with passengers during the crisis.

Could this happen to your business? If there was a major power outage due to a hurricane or an internal shutdown like Delta’s, how would you reach employees? How would you communicate with customers? What would be your most immediate needs upon recovery? How will you respond to media inquiries at each stage of the crisis?

Here is what our team advises to create a crisis-ready company:

  1. Pre-crisis planning: Plan, review, rehearse!
    • Anticipate the crisis by considering every possible best/worst case scenario.
    • Determine risk for each scenario.
    • Develop appropriate draft responses for each scenario.
    • Prioritize audience for each scenario.
    • Identify your crisis communications team and key spokespeople for each scenario.
    • Develop key messages for key spokespeople, implementing media training as needed.
    • Establish information center for each scenario.
    • Create a checklist for each scenario or “to-do” list in the event of the crisis.
    • Review plan, rehearse plan and communicate plan to key stakeholders.
  1. Crisis time: Grab the plan!
    • Quick assessment of situation and crisis plan to determine scenario to follow.
    • Communication: The first step when a crisis presents itself is to get out your crisis plan and communicate the facts of the situation to team. Whether it’s an immediate crisis such as the Delta situation, or an emerging crisis such as a union negotiation/strike, it’s important to first notify top management and channel all inquiries to assigned spokespeople.
    • Assess situation, gather facts and revise existing draft statements as needed. Focus on any victims, communicating compassion as well as any call to action, safety tips, etc.
    • Set up team at information center, time and travel permitting.
    • Finalize and adapt key messages.
    • Begin communication/issue statements to key target audiences, even if facts are brief. In the case of Delta, it’s communication channels to passengers was down, so alternate communications options were needed such as target airport personnel, airport communications team, travel agents and general media. When computers/technology fail, back-up communications plans such as phones, video, fax or other technology sources need to be considered.
    • Consider press conference, depending upon situation
    • Continually review crisis checklist/plan for next steps.
    • Continually monitor media, with a focus on social media, and prepare and respond accordingly.
    • Monitor any new target audiences that need to be addressed.
    • Continually assess impact of situation on organization and audiences, assessing new or impending risks and developing strategies to manage it.
  1. Post-crisis management: What did we learn?
    • Reconvene team to discuss damage, additional risks
    • Focus on prevention planning
    • Communicate post-crisis plans to key audiences
    • Revamp crisis plan
    • Make any necessary organizational changes
    • Continually assess situation and communication strategies.

For Delta, rebuilding trust will be key. CEO Ed Bastian’s quick apology to passengers was met with favorable reviews, however, Delta’s initial offer of a $200 voucher to those with cancelled or delayed flights over two hours was not well received.

While Priority Marketing has seen an increase in the number of clients that work with us to create a crisis communications plan, the fact is that a majority of organizations don’t have a plan in place. Having the pieces in place in the event of a crisis will help you and your clients navigate your way out of a tough situation, and it is an important step toward protecting your brand now and in the future.

Article by Holly Boldrin, Director of Public Relations at Priority Marketing. Through strong media relationships and great storytelling skills, Holly is able to generate positive publicity for Priority Marketing’s diverse clientele throughout Southwest Florida and beyond.