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Getting your message across with a crisis grid

In a crisis will your messages reach their intended audiences? How do you get your comms to cut through? You need a crisis grid.

There is no such thing as an automated response to a crisis. Successful crisis handling is a combination of the soft human skills of initiative, experience and ability backed by the hard copy of plans and protocols. Ultimately, it’s people who resolve crises, but they need to be supported by appropriate plans and processes. This is particularly true of crisis communications.

Any communication that is put out by an organisation involved in an incident, and that goes for internal and external comms, must be in touch with the public mood. Do or say something that is at odds with what most people see as a reasonable response to an emergency and you run the risk of being front page news for all the wrong reasons.

What you say is of paramount importance, but how do you reach your key stakeholders with your carefully crafted communications? Today we’re looking at process rather than content because from a comms point of view, if your audiences aren’t aware you’re responding to an incident, then effectively you’re not.

Although a crisis response can’t be automated you can still undertake valuable work ahead of time to make sure you are crisis ready. In comms you can prepare pre-agreed holding statements and press releases, even tweets and social media updates. These will have to be rewritten and updated to reflect an actual crisis, but not having to start with a blank piece of paper is always welcome. How you do that is a discussion for another day.

Today we are looking at crisis grids. It may be dry, but preparing a crisis grid to help make sure you don’t miss a key stakeholder can reap huge benefits should crisis strike.

In simple terms a crisis grid itemises those stakeholders you need to contact and then sets out the best methods or conduits for doing so.

Key Stakeholders

The first job is to identify your key stakeholders; this should be reasonably easy and you may already have that list. Here are some suggestions:

  • Board members
  • Customers
  • Clients
  • Staff
  • Suppliers
  • Regulators
  • Investors
  • Shareholders
  • The media
  • The public
  • Contractors

Once you have that list you will need, as far as is possible, to capture all their contact details. It might also be helpful to assemble a stakeholder template to help keep that particular individual or company on-side:

  • Name of stakeholder
  • Why is this stakeholder important?
  • What is their likely response to this incident?
  • What might change their reaction?
  • What outcome would satisfy them?
  • How can be deliver that in a timely fashion?
  • What key messages would play well with them?
  • What 3rd party advocates could we use to support our case?
  • Which member of staff has a good relationship with this stakeholder?

Crisis Grid

Thereafter you need to identify how best to contact your audiences. Which of these stakeholders do you communicate with directly? Do you use phone or email? Are these stakeholders used to being addressed via social media? How will you reach staff, perhaps via your intranet or some form of emergency communication system? What apps or other media platforms do your stakeholders use in their daily lives that may present a unique means of communicating with them directly?

Once you have determined who you need to reach and the preferred method for doing so it should be a simple task to draw up a communication grid.

A word of warning

It is important to run tests to make sure the channels that you identify actually work and that you are conversant with them. Companies now often use emergency communication systems such as F24 or Everbridge to communicate with employees. Some see these platforms as just for use in an emergency and are not rolled out on a regular basis. This can cause problems. What happens if no emergency occurs and people forget their training and in the tension of an emergency don’t use the devices to their fullest potential. Even worse, what if those staff have moved on and no one in the company has a clue how to operate the system? These technologies must be used on a regular basis either during exercises or for sending non-urgent information. This keeps the operators up to speed and means recipients get used to what might have been an unfamiliar method of communication.

Comms grids are an essential but perhaps not very glamorous part of the comms process. Glamorous or not, you need to make space for them in your crisis comms plan.