Do you remember the Tylenol crisis? 7 people were murdered by unknowingly taking tylenol that was laced with potassium cyanide in the Chicago area in 1982. While the perpetrator and the motive remain unknown, the deaths were due to drug tampering. Did Tylenol go under? Certainly not. The drug maker was prepared for a crisis and took immediate action – pulling all Tylenol products off the shelves. Drug maker Johnson & Johnson even took it one step further: working with the FDA to reduce deaths, warn the public and also to revamp packaging laws and federal anti-tampering laws. In addition, Chicago Police even took the streets issuing warnings over loudspeakers. While J&J pulled more than $100 million in product from the shelves, they gained unfathomable ‘credit’ that goes beyond dollars – which translated into Goodwill. Tylenol came back and as a result, only goodwill from J&J and Tylenol remained in the memories of the public.
Fortunately, J&J had a crisis plan. And they enacted it quickly, generously, and responsibly. Many of my clients come to me with the most basic of questions, however, so I thought I would spell out exactly what a crisis plan is and what it entails.
A crisis communications plan is a plan, created by the communications team in tandem with your operations and executive personnel, which outlines a generic, basic crisis communications response.
What Constitutes a Crisis?
A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative conditions. Sometimes the media will hear about the issue, and sometimes they may not. Either way, a Crisis Communications Plan is a chain of action and chain of command document (often a 3-ring binder, given to all operations and executive personnel) that spells out the who, what, when, where, why and how in a crisis situation. It often will also provide a list of crises, as well as specific actions for each type of crisis.
These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It can also be a situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner. This definition is not all encompassing but rather is designed to give you an idea for the types of situations where you may need to follow this plan.
If handled correctly the damage can be minimized.
For communications personnel, truth in action is key. What is crucial in a crisis? — transparency and quickness. Be sure to tell the complete story (or what you know thus far), tell it quickly, and be as fact- and truth-oriented as possible. If you do this you have done all you can to control or mitigate the situation, as wells the situation allows.
When a potential crisis arises, employees will be directed to contact their superior, the CEO and the public relations department. The sooner you get those two organizations involved the sooner you can implement the crisis plan. The CEO will get the operations personnel lined up with a response, and the crisis/pr department will work with the executive team on the PR response.
What are the elements of a Crisis Plan?
It is helped to outline the Crisis Plan in the following manner:
1. A Detailed Plan of Action: outline how your company will respond in a crisis. include who may activate the plan, and specific circumstances under which a plan is activated.
2. Outline the Crisis Communications Team: delineate whom should be part of the crisis response team on both sides – operations and communications.
3. Key Messages: Define any and all key messages in advance that should always accompany the crisis response. These may contain elements of your company’s mission or brand.
While you may not use the crisis messages specifically, you want to be sure to have these elements in all responses, and this should be outlined in your plan:
a. Identify cause of crisis
b. Provide a brief description of the crisis
c. Communication compassion for victims
d. Provide suggestions for protection if appropriate
4. Define Internal Communications Procedures. Spell out in the plan the who, how, what, and where of communicating to key constituents.
5. Contacts and Media List. Include your key media in the event that the PR team is not able to be part of the response.
6. Appendices. These may include checklists, media and social media policies, media call-in log, internal email statements for staff about not speaking to media, internal/external communications procedures, fact sheets on the company, key bios, logos/photos, copies of the business continuity / disaster plans (often required by insurers), contact information for key employees.
In the event of a crisis – no matter how large or small – you will be one step closer to being better prepared. If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.riotprllc.com