How to Create an Effective Crisis Media Plan

Crisis May 19, 2020 By: Sue Young

When an emergency unfolds, it is important to respond appropriately and quickly. Having a crisis media plan in place will help you navigate the crisis—and be prepared for the next one.

From COVID-19 and workplace violence to data breaches and natural disasters, crises can arise at any moment, and no one is immune. Crisis media plans are essential to your association’s operational continuity, financial stability, brand reputation, and future.

Yes, emergencies happen. Having a plan that identifies various disaster scenarios can help frame the strategies to succeed ahead of time. Savvy association leaders who draft a framework in advance often are able to respond gracefully and recover with confidence, empathy, knowledge, and the skill sets necessary for today’s 24/7 news cycle.

Whether you have a strategy that needs updating or you’ve never formulated a plan, these guidelines can help prepare you to communicate effectively during any crisis.

Assemble a team. Your core, “go-to” group should include between five and 10 people, depending on the size of your association. The executive director, a communications professional, the social media manager, legal counsel, representatives from the HR and IT departments, and a board representative can be part of your team.

Assign roles. Determine who will be the face of your communication and media interviews. The executive director may not be the ideal choice. The spokesperson who represents your association must have media training, feel comfortable in the spotlight, and be a superb communicator. This role is not for everyone. Also, designate a backup. Your first choice may be unavailable during an emergency. 

Draft a holding statement. This is a template that can easily be tailored to a crisis. Having the framework in place ahead of time allows you to clearly communicate “we’re on it” while gathering details and executing your strategy. The firm Media First offers an example of a template statement for a crisis involving employees injured in a fire. It conveys factual information, like the status of the employees, where the incident happened, and that facts are still being gathered. It is also balanced with empathy and compassion (saying the organization will assist the employees’ families) and states when the next update will be available.

Be sure to overcommunicate—internally and externally. Keeping employees abreast of an unfolding situation is a must. Responsible leaders ask themselves two questions throughout the incident: “Are our people OK?” and “How can we make their lives easier once it’s done?” For external communication, maximize social media and video to connect with employees, the public, and reporters. Video builds instant rapport and allows viewers to see a real human being—not a logo—to learn new developments. Videos should be under three minutes and provide essential information and resources.

Role-play and prepare with an expert. Working with an experienced trainer will show you how to pull the moving pieces of your plan together. Remember, a crisis can unfold on Tuesday at 3 a.m. or Sunday at noon. Your team has to feel confident that they are equipped to oversee a fluid and stressful situation. I’m a former radio news reporter and have been to hundreds of press conferences. The media spotlight can rattle even the pros.

Once a plan is in place, it’s imperative to review it quarterly. Contact information, social media passwords, and other information will likely need updating.

An emergency—whether it’s a couple of employees with a COVID-19 diagnosis, an accident that guts your building, or a widespread data breach—can showcase your organization at its best. The key is to prepare in advance. 


Sue Young

Susan Young is CEO of Get in Front Communications, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas.