Writing your crisis comms playbook: Free guide reveals key techniques


Wondering how to prepare for your next crisis? Pick up tips and best practices for writing or updating your crisis playbook, from gathering the right team to rehearsing your response.

By Ragan Communications | Posted: November 17, 2015

Your crisis could start with a data breach. Or a recall of your flagship product. Or as a tweet that becomes an avalanche of negativity on the Internet.

Wherever it begins, key to a successful response is preparation.

That means that long before the crisis breaks, you must write a communications playbook that lays out how your organization will respond. Learn how in this free guide from Nasdaq Corporate Solutions and Ragan Communications.

The guide, “How to Build a World-Class Crisis Communications Playbook,” details how to build a crisis response team, anticipate incidents you may face and rehearse for crises. The free guide is available for download here.

“In today’s world,” says Richard B. “Rick” Goins, director of global communications for McDermott International, “there’s such a need for immediacy, you can get out in front of yourself if you don’t have a good playbook in hand.”

When traditional crises intersect with social media, having a playbook—and rehearsing your response—has become more vital than ever. Crises demand sure-footed preparation and speedy responses, be they to a recall, a data breach or an activist investor knocking your management in the press.

You’ll learn:

  • How to build an incident response team. You can’t predict the next crisis that could damage your company, but effective preparation can mitigate its effects on your organization’s reputation and bottom line. Find out who should be at the table, including public relations, investor relations and your security team.
  • How to prepare for activist investors. In publicly traded companies, crises can emerge when activist investors zero in on an organization and begin criticizing its management in the press. Find out how to prepare a response team before you face this issue.
  • Why you need comprehensive contact lists. Depending on the size and reach, you may require lists of local, regional, national and global journalists to contact.
  • How prepared statements written long before a crisis strikes can help you respond faster and more thoughtfully.
  • Tips for holding drills for various crisis scenarios. Some organizations conduct drills annually; others, in high-risk industries, do so even more frequently. Learn how to prepare through drills and evaluate your effectiveness afterward.
  • How “dark websites” prepared in advance can speed your response. If you’re working in an industry that has inherent risks-food tampering, a data breach or a plane crash-prepare a dark site that you can activate, says Nicholas F. Peters, senior vice president of CommCore Consulting Group.
  • The importance of regular media training for your executives. McDermott schedules annual media training, and executive team members cycle through it every two years.
  • How to monitor social media and set up a listening protocol, whether it’s monitoring keywords or keeping an eye on journalists and other influential people.
  • How to conduct a postmortem examining how well your spokesperson did and how you were portrayed in news media coverage. Ask yourself, “What aspects do we need to review to reinvigorate and to ensure that we’re on the right track?” says Matthew Doering, president and senior partner at Global Gateway Advisors.

Download your free copy of “How to Build a World-Class Crisis Communications Playbook.”

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Planning for the unthinkable: Crisis comms after the Paris attack


A catastrophe on the scale of Friday’s terror attacks in Paris may seem remote from the daily life of most communicators.

Yet crisis communication requires professionals to think through the unthinkable, plan their response and prepare to manage information amid wild rumors, several experts say.

The events in Paris are horrific and troubling for civilized society, and the initial crisis response is one for physical and corporate security experts, says Andrew Gilman, president and chief executive of CommCore Consulting Group.

“For communications, the Paris attack is similar to natural disasters such as the tsunami in Asia and Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Virginia Tech,” Gilman says. “It teaches that we must look at our crisis plans and make sure that they are up to date and using the best rapid technologies. For example, universities don’t rely on email to reach students in the event of a crisis or incident; most use text messages.”

Managing the rumors

Gerald Baron, chief executive of Agincourt Strategies, said the crisis demonstrates once again how social media plays a central role in the spread of the news—and of false rumors.

Baron’s daughter and son-in-law were in France and heading to Paris when the attacks occurred. (They emailed to say they were four hours south of Paris and safe.) He immediately checked out a live thread from Reddit to get the latest updates.

“To me, the main lesson once again is the importance of rumor management,” Baron says. “The thread I was following both reported rumors and corrected them as soon as possible.”

One rumor spread that a fire in Calais was part of the attacks, he says, heightening his family’s fears because it suggested that there were coordinated attacks elsewhere in France. Almost as soon as he saw the report, however, it was revealed on Reddit as a discredited rumor. The photos of the fire were from an earlier event, Baron says.

The primary message to official communicators is that rumor management is job one, Baron says.

“There will be so many sources of information, and the news media does not edit like they used to,” he says. “Immediacy is everything, and the official sources such as police and emergency management should be closest to the action, closest to the truth.”

Social media monitoring

These information offices must have a robust social media monitoring operation, Baron says. Their communication teams should be deeply embedded on the frontlines, where they can get the fastest information possible.

Brad Phillips of Phillips Media Relations likewise mentioned the inaccurate nature of early reports, such as one from NBC News stating that one of the members of the band Eagles of Death Metal was killed in the Bataclan Concert Hall attack. The victim was later revealed to be their merchandise manager, not a band member, Phillips says.

“Anyone using social media during a crisis can help by being judicious with the initial reports they choose to share,” he says. “Click on the source. Look at the comments to see if anyone has revealed an obvious flaw with the information contained in the tweet. If you’re not certain, it’s best to simply express solidarity with and sympathy for the victims instead of unintentionally becoming part of the misinformation machine.”

Several experts say the tragedy will accelerate the use of Facebook’s Safety Check feature. “One of my sons was reassured about the safety of his sister by checking their Facebook page and seeing where they were,” Baron says. “These tools become vitally important in this kind of event.”

Corporations are likely to follow in Facebook’s footsteps, Gilman says. “Expect that private businesses will develop internal versions of Safety Check,” he says.

In a blog post about the Paris attacks for Marsh, an insurance broking and risk management company, Chandra Seymour writes that communications are an essential element of a greater crisis response.

“You may potentially have to reach out to employees, customers, investors and others,” Seymour writes. “During a crisis, it is critical that your company’s messages and communications are linked to reinforce the overall strategies and decisions made by the crisis management team.”

The events in Paris also show that organizations should be make their crisis plans available to team members on mobile devices via an app, Gilman says.

“The plans should include checklists, contact lists and instructions,” he says. “The key is to make sure that everyone in the organization checks in and is accounted for.”