Crisis Communications Planning: PR Lessons from a Hurricane

Posted by Tracy Hartman

Sep 11, 2017 1:48:00 PM

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During late summer and early fall, it’s not unusual to hear about tropical depressions or tropical storms, which sometimes develop into full force hurricanes. These hurricanes vary in intensity from category 1 to category 5 (the most severe). It usually starts when a meteorologist forecasts some sort of “activity” on the weather maps as a potential risk in the coming days or weeks. And then, depending on how things develop to intensify or weaken the hurricane, the weather service can either announce a “hurricane watch” (meaning a hurricane is a possibility) or can elevate to a “hurricane warning” (a hurricane is expected).

Yikes! A hurricane is coming, a very scary proposition, and one that you need to be prepared for.

Likewise, brands encounter many “storms” in their life cycle, it’s just what happens. And sometimes these storms develop into a full force crisis — the PR version of a hurricane. If you think it’s not going to happen to you, simply put, you’re naïve. There is so much we can learn from hurricane preparedness and apply it to how we can prepare for a PR crisis.

Step 1: Develop a Plan

By the time you know a hurricane is happening, you better have a plan in place. Of course, the time to plan is BEFORE there is a hurricane. Similarly, the time to develop a PR crisis plan is BEFORE the crisis ever happens.

  • Hurricane: Have a hurricane plan in place for your family — how and when are you going to get out of your house? What are you going to bring with you? What are the items you will need to survive (bottled water, food, gas, etc.)?
  • PR Crisis: Prepare a crisis plan — determine what type of crises might happen. What are your basic messaging points? What are the basic steps you need to have in place to address a crisis?

Step 2: Identify your team

As part of the plan, you need to have your core team in place.

  • Hurricane: Who needs to be with you when you leave — is there an elderly relative that you need to include as part of your evacuation? What family members are you going to stay with?
  • PR Crisis: Which executive is assigned to be the face of your brand? Who is the spokesperson and liaison with the media? Who will be part of your crisis team to quickly put forth a strategy?

Step 3: Be Proactive

When you know a storm is on the horizon, you have to be proactive to get things in place to prepare for the worst of it.

  • Hurricane: Whether you are in “watch” or “warning” mode, be proactive and board up your windows, fuel up your car, move valuables to a higher floor.
  • PR Crisis: Prepare your execs for what’s coming — make sure they know that they need to make themselves completely available. Review the plan with the crisis team and executives so everyone knows exactly what to do. Rehearse the messages. 

Step 4: Be Responsive

Once the storm is in full force, whatever you do, communication during a crisis is of the utmost importance. 

  • Hurricane: Do your family members know your plan and where you will be? Share your plans on social media so your extended family and friends will know you are ok. Charge your cell phone.
  • PR Crisis: When the media calls, DON’T hesitate to be responsive. Hesitation equates to weakness and rumors will begin if you don’t get in front of them. Call a press conference, issue a press release. Make sure the media has your cell phone number.

Step 5: Assess and Learn

When the storm subsides, take time to look at what areas you can improve upon or might handle differently.

  • Hurricane: Did you have enough supplies? If not, why? Did your family and friends know what was happening and where you were? How will you “pick up the pieces” and rebuild? How will you prepare your home next time?
  • PR Crisis: How did the media coverage turn out? Did the media fully understand your position? Do your executives need more media training? What would you add to your crisis plan to make it better for if there’s another crisis?

Hurricane or PR crisis, whether you’ve endured a category 1 storm, or have unfortunately endured the severity of a category 5 storm, the one thing to take away is you need to be prepared. Never underestimate the power of a well thought out crisis plan.

 

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Topics: Public Relations