When an event threatens the viability or integrity of business operations, you have a crisis on your hands. A lawsuit, an accident on the production floor, a natural disaster (think earthquake or flood) can undermine the viability of even a prosperous, thriving business. Is your company ready to handle a crisis that can threaten its very existence? It’s a good idea to plan for the future so you’re ready no matter what the future holds.

A crisis communications plan is an important component of any disaster plan.  It can act as a guide to help you quickly contain the crisis and recover from its impact. Whether it’s a weather disaster, a highly publicized lawsuit or a bad product review, your reaction should be immediate, focused and emphatic.

Here’s how to create a crisis management plan before a crisis hits, because once it does hit, you’ll have to fix it FAST!

Crisis Communication Helps Crisis Management

A crisis is a test for any company management team, large or small. Crisis management starts at the top and serves the interests of management in keeping the company viable.

Communicating to managers during any event that might have an impact on the business, its customer base, or even the local neighborhood, is critical. Crisis management is almost always a collaboration between different managers, one department addressing the media, another setting up a short-term office until your current office is pumped out after the flood.

Providing information to engaged parties may lessen the risk of a small problem becoming a big headache. Crisis communication is the key, so keep stakeholders in the loop and don’t try to manage a crisis alone. You have expert help on your management team. Delegate. Communicate. Resolve.

Crisis Communications Considerations

Consider some of the following blanks that need to be filled in as you flesh out your communications strategy during any kind of business crisis:

Define a crisis in your communications plan. Not every blip is a crisis that ruins your weekend. Create protocols that define when managers are contacted, and when it can wait until Monday.  

Who will manage the crisis? In times of business crisis, decision makers should be well aware of company policy on crisis management and communications – before that crisis occurs.

What information do stakeholders need? Customers need one kind of information and the press another, while government regulators may need completely different information. Design communications ahead of time to react quickly to whatever comes your way.

Identify who needs what information. Your business activities have a far-reaching impact on lots of people and companies. Develop a crisis communication plan that includes a list of who needs to know what ASAP.

Give some thought to the list creation, considering the “need to know” for all who work with your business. Include:

  • employees and their families
  • vendors
  • sub-contractors and outsources
  • the local community
  • customers
  • local, state and federal oversight and regulatory agencies, like OSHA
  • government officials
  • general media outlets
  • industry-specific media
  • social media sites where you're active

Who will be the company spokesperson? Information should come from a single source for clarity. Choose the public face of the crisis manager before trouble strikes.

Create a company policy that employees will not speak to media. If the company’s position changes from one spokesperson to another, the message isn’t consistent, creating an even bigger crisis.

Contact your legal counsel if government agencies are involved. Government regulations require notification of most workplace accidents.

Provide complete contact information for each group in your communications plan. Calls from customers go to client care, calls from suppliers go to the procurement manager.

Try to provide direct contact information that skips the automated phone tree. In times of business crisis, stakeholders want to talk to a human being.

Your business may have other individuals and companies that need to be kept in the loop, so expand your list to cover everybody from the cleaning crew to top-tier management in companies that provide goods and services.

Develop messages for each group on your list providing the basics: what the crisis is, the company’s response, the anticipated impact on the company, crisis resolution, and regular updates as needed. Your message should be highly targeted to each group, providing answers to their highly specific questions.

A crisis can ruin a business reputation that’s taken years to build. A crisis can take many forms, from bad weather to bad luck. Look down the road. Where is your company exposed to risk? How do you mitigate risk?

With a crisis communications plan ready to be implemented, you’ll have the answers you need for the people with questions.

Start preparing today. It really is better to be safe than sorry. 


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC