5 Tips for Writing a Crisis Communication Plan

As a communications professional, there’s a good chance you’ll be tasked with writing a crisis communication plan at some point. If you’ve landed on this post, you might be in the midst of this challenging exercise right now. Crisis communication plans are invaluable, providing a consistent method for handling communication crises and saving precious time when it’s most needed. Moreover, having a plan offers emotional comfort—knowing you’re prepared.

Look at the bright side. Consider yourself fortunate to be granted the time and resources for crisis communication preparedness. Many organisations invest more in trust and reputation management, often overlooking crisis communication planning because crises seem rare and communications are viewed as a soft discipline. Consequently, the attitude can be, “We’ll manage it when we get there.” Here are some tips to guide you through the process.

This post summarises a deep-dive on crisis communication plans organized by the activities committee.

crisis communications plan

1. Define the Scope

The term “crisis plan” can mean different things to different people. Some use it interchangeably with contingency plans, risk management plans, business continuity plans, operational response plans, crisis communication plans, etc.

For those tasked with creating a plan (whether you’re an internal communications expert or an external advisor), it’s crucial to define the scope of work clearly, including deliverables. This avoids misunderstandings and prevents scope-creep later on.

2. Be Aware of Paradoxes

Crisis management, including crisis communication planning, is riddled with paradoxes. Crisis plans are somewhere between:

  • Short & concise vs. extensive & complete
  • Principle-based vs. task-focused
  • Generic vs. scenario-specific
  • Comforting vs. giving a fake sense of security
  • Providing guidance vs. leaving room for creativity

Recognising these paradoxes is the first step before you can navigate the fine line between the extremes.

3. Develop a Generic Crisis Communication Model First

There are many online resources that outline the typical components of a crisis communication plan. However, we suggest beginning with a basic, generic model or framework that outlines, at a high level, how your organisation handles communication crises. This model is the heart of your plan, and getting it right is 80% of the work.

A plan won’t succeed if it’s written by one person and expected to be fully understood and implemented by everyone else. Instead, encourage colleagues to develop the crisis communication model themselves. This fosters engagement and ownership, enhancing the plan’s effectiveness. Analyse existing documents, talk to key stakeholders, or organise tabletop exercises to guide the group towards creating a model they feel ownership over.

4. Be Honest

Crisis communication planning should not be a box-ticking exercise. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The word “plan” suggests knowing what to do, but it’s important to recognise your weaknesses and blind spots in terms of capacity, competencies, tools, or overall risk and crisis appetite. Be honest and humble about these shortcomings, and address the risks you’re not willing to take.

5. Think About What’s Next

Once the plan is finished and validated, what’s next? Plans are agreements on how to handle communication crises, but they don’t guarantee success or develop the skills needed to implement them. The planning process raises awareness, so maintain momentum by planning training, exercises, and simulations to ensure the plan is used effectively.

If you’re not taking ownership of the document, hand it off to someone who knows the plan thoroughly and is passionate about crisis management. It’s crucial that crisis preparedness is not neglected, ensuring all your hard work pays off.