Crisis management. Yikes.

If you’re getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it, you’re not alone. Most people don’t want to think about managing a crisis until they find themselves, well, managing a crisis. But as the adage goes, “It’s not a matter of IF a crisis will hit, but WHEN” — so it’s best to be prepared.

Why? Tensions will be high, no matter the circumstances. That can make it tough for some to think (and act) with a clear head, and having a basic plan ready to go will help everyone understand who needs to do what and when, without spending time going back and forth to discuss.

Here are some tips for both creating a crisis communications plan and putting that plan to use:

Creating your plan: 3 steps

  1. Sit down with your executive team and/or board of directors to think through ALL possible scenarios: What would be a threat to your reputation? Your physical infrastructure? Your members? Your staff?

    To get your brainstorming started, a few common types of crises are natural, technological, external confrontation, and internal misconduct. Consider the above questions in the context of these categories.

    And if you’re thinking it, the answer is no — this won’t be a particularly enjoyable meeting. But, the more input you can get from across different functions of your association or chamber, the better.

  2. Determine your responses to each of those threats. What would be your course of action? What would you say — and to whom?

    Of course, the specifics of any crisis would have to be taken into account, but you can at least start to formulate a plan that reflects your organization’s mission and values.

    Get ideas by looking at crises that similar organizations have faced and how they handled it. Don’t be shy about reaching out to colleagues to ask what crises they’ve prepared for and why, and how they’ve handled a crisis they’ve already faced.

  3. Implement a crisis team. Your plan should include the names and contact information for the most crucial association or chamber staff members. Then, delegate who owns what pieces of the plan. Doing so ahead of time allows the team to immediately get to work as soon as a crisis reveals itself.

    And, in the event that the media will be involved, you’ll want to identify a spokesperson. Typically that’s the person at the head of your organization (your executive director, for example). But what if that person isn’t very comfortable with public speaking? A crisis is no time to wing it, so don’t be afraid to recommend another team member.

In crisis mode: 3 tips

  1. Constantly communicate your messaging and other important steps you’re taking to your staff. While they might not be involved in mitigating the crisis directly, everyone from the top down should be communicating the same thing to members. Internal support will be imperative so be sure to develop basic talking points for staff and let them know who they can direct members to with more questions or concerns.
  2. Make transparency and empathy a priority. In this age of the 24-hour news cycle, everyone wants all of the information all the time. Do your best with what you know at the time — and don’t say nothing. That’s often more frustrating than simply being told, “We are still investigating, we’ll share more when we know.”
  3. Stay disciplined and don’t change course. In the middle of a crisis, it can be easy to start seeing all of the other things you could be doing. Do your best to move forward with the decisions that you and your team determined would be best. You made those decisions for a reason!

Taking the time to plan ahead can make all the difference in a difficult situation. But, if you should find yourself in a situation you didn’t plan for, it’s never too late to take a step back and gather your stakeholders to go through the three steps above. Sacrificing a little bit of time to get everyone on the same page will allow you and your team to manage the crisis confidently.

In a crisis situation, email may be the quickest, most direct way to reach your stakeholders. Brush up on your email marketing with our guide to the best practices: