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Preparation is key to managing a communications crisis

by Ed Grunill

Writing for The Spectator, business editor Martin Vander Weyer once said: “Someone, somewhere, is bound to be doing something disastrous that head office doesn’t know about.”


This isn’t always true of course, but it is an interesting thought. One that points to the importance of preparing for issues before they arise, and the need for organisations to have clear processes to handle them.


At ZPB, much of our crisis communications work focuses on prevention (as in much of healthcare more generally, prevention is better than the cure). Preparing for a comms crisis will typically start with creating a risk register about known challenges and issues, and the key actions that would need to be taken should they arise. Now this doesn’t need to be something catastrophic. A delayed delivery or tech issue can cause upset from customers, and having a carefully thought-out response ready to go can help to maintain trust and reputation.


Creating a risk register and FAQ can be difficult. It often means confronting things that clients would rather not talk about and suggesting that they need to have responses ready in case of emergency can set nerves jangling. But it is much better to have your key messages on file, than having to write and sign off a response at 5pm on a Friday.


There can of course be unforeseen issues too and this is where the importance of a clear escalation process really comes into play. You need to know who is involved, who is informed, and how you will keep important stakeholders “in the know” in case of emergency. This should always include a process for “out of hours”. These things have a habit of coming up at inconvenient moments…


I recently took part in a two-day masterclass on crisis management for the PRCA. During the course we looked at a range of crises and issues from across the decades and how they had been dealt with. Alongside preparedness, other principles for success included honesty, empathy, and consistency. If there is an issue or a crisis then fight, or flight can kick in. It’s so important that organisations strike the right tone and that the right people are on hand to answer questions as they arise.


Having great responses and messaging is half the battle, but you also need to deliver them well. Media training and briefing clients can be fun – the chance to role-play questions and build confidence in key lines – and it is also vitally important. The best communicators are the ones who can hit those key messages in a way that feels natural and human. The only way to achieve this is through practice.


I’m going to end this blog with one more quote. This time from American billionaire Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Investing time into your crisis communications plans and processes is always time well spent. You might hope to never use that FAQ or escalation process – but you’ll be glad you have it if you do…


To find out more about how ZPB Associates can help you with your crisis communications processes contact


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