Gini Dietrich

How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan

By: Gini Dietrich | August 4, 2014 | 

How to Write a Crisis Communications PlanBy Gini Dietrich

Early in my career, I had some amazing opportunities to work on some really big crises.

For those of you who have worked in crisis communications, you know why “amazing opportunities” doesn’t sound like I’m mental.

There is almost nothing better than the surge of adrenaline that comes from juggling a crisis, dealing with hoards of people asking you questions, and staying up all night working through issues.

I remember having to work all weekend when Hostess found asbestos in one of their plants. We had to call as many customers as they had phone numbers for and ask them to throw away their boxes of Twinkies.

(This clearly was before the Interwebz and social media.)

It was really great experience to talk to customers—who were very grateful for the personal phone call—but also to sit in the large conference room and listen to the partners advise the clients.

It used to be opportunities like these were few and far between, unless that was your communications specialization.

Today, though, a crisis can erupt while the community manager is sleeping…and be completely out-of-control by the time he or she rolls over and checks their phone early the next morning.

How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan

You don’t have to go far to find a case study of crisis communications gone rogue.

Think about Paula Deen, Susan G. Komen, Kenneth Cole, and Applebee’s.

They’re handled so poorly, it’s easy to list them off the top of your head.

But the real issue isn’t that they did bad things—we’re all human and we all make mistakes—it’s that they were handled by people who didn’t have any crisis communications experience.

That’s why I’m excited that Melissa Agnes, the co-founder and president of Agnes Day—a crisis intelligence firm out of Montreal (and she says her French words so eloquently)—is joining us for our monthly free webinar on Thursday.

It’s highly likely that every communications professional will be involved in an online crisis a few times throughout their career (I may even be so bold as to say once a year), but that many won’t have the expertise to handle it.

Melissa is going to give you the nuts and bolts you need to create a crisis communications plan, including:

  • How to determine the difference between an issue and a crisis;
  • How to brainstorm potential scenarios;
  • How to determine your audiences;
  • How to understand and meet the expectations of your audiences;
  • How to develop your “first response” statement prior to a crisis striking;
  • How to provide real-time updates;
  • How to enable your team to be responsive during a crisis;
  • How to monitor, what to monitor, and when to monitor; and
  • How to practice your plan to be certain it actually works!

She also has lots of case studies that provide examples of what you should do…and what not to do.

Webinar Details

The webinar is this Thursday, August 7, at noon ET (that’s 11 a.m. CT, 10 a.m. MT, and 9 a.m. PT, for those of you who can’t do time zones).

It is free and it’s a two-step process.

First, go to Spin Sucks Pro and click the blue “purchase” button at the bottom of the page.

Click “checkout.”

Either create a new account or login to your account.

Click “download purchase” and click the link on the confirmation page (you’ll also receive an email with this information).

Register for the webinar on that page and you’ll be good to go!

Customers Go Rogue

Melissa is going to prepare you to be ready for the new rules of crisis communications, to listen, to respond, and to regain control in a crisis gone viral.

If the idea of one of your customers going rogue scares you, this webinar is for you.

If you can’t attend live, but can’t live without advice from Melissa, please go ahead and register for the webinar. This is how we’ll know to send you a copy of the video later this week.

The comments are now yours…for questions, ideas, or things you’d like to see during the webinar.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • On my calendar and registered! Looking forward to it.

  • Looking forward to the webinar either on Thursday (if it is raining) or post beach day if the sun is shining;) Summer priorities!  Melissa is one of my premier authorities on crisis and issue management and I would like to hear her thoughts on how Target is coming along in their recuperative brand efforts over the past six months since the data breach, CMO statement, ad campaign with employees etc.

  • Very excited about this one! Big thank you to Melissa for bringing her knowledge!

  • I think there are two things that really determine your chops – long rang strategic development and “amazing opportunities” to handle a crisis.

    Should be a GREAT webinar.

  • This is going to be awesome. I think we should ask her to answer questions in both French and English.

  • The similarities between this and the Aerospace and Automotive industries in how they design and choose vehicle parts are quite many. Those engineers require a DFMEA from each vendor for each part. And this is where the Engineers go through the design and testing to know everything that could possibly go wrong during normal and stressed conditions. In Finance/Banking/Insurance they also do this and call it risk management.. They run millions of calculations to show what would happen to their financial positions should certain events occur. 

    Businesses should all have a crisis plan. Run through everything that could happen and have an action and response ready for it. That high end range Brand that just sold one to a very prominent PR person just had 27 of them blow up in Switzerland….last weekend. Should they call her? Just send a press release and hope she reads it? Stay quiet and hope no other ranges blow up? Head in the sand is always a good choice in my opinion. Long history of working every time……

  • Eleanor Pierce Does that mean I have to ask the questions in both languages?

  • ginidietrich Eleanor Pierce Oui!

  • LauraPetrolino Eleanor Pierce Non!

  • Nhlanhla Shezi

    Great points Gini, as a Public Relations and Communication student, you continue to make this industry very exciting for me.

  • stevesonn

    Wow, this looks really good! Looking forward to it.

  • MyrnaKJ

    Ack! I have an event that morning. This will be available to view online after, right?

    • Yes! Just register so we have your email address and know to send the recording to you.

  • Nhlanhla Shezi That makes me happy to hear!

  • stevesonn “See” you then!

  • BillSmith3

    You guys are in for a treat, Agnes Day did a guest lecture in our Advanced Practices in Digital Reputation Management at UofT a month ago  regarding online communications crisis situation and how to deal with them.

    • Does that mean you won’t be at this week’s webinar?

  • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino Eleanor Pierce Hm. Maybe she can translate the questions into French. I haven’t worked out all the details.

  • Asked without malice: Is there a difference between a “crisis emergency plan” and a “contingency plan?”

  • jdrobertson That’s an excellent question! A contingency plan could be viewed as a crisis management plan, though typically a crisis plan is more thorough and looks at contingencies to managing crises that risk impacting the organization in a negative way, for the long-term; whereas a contingency plan can be less severe or deal with a wide spectrum of issues, not just crises.

    I hope this was a clear enough answer. If you attend the webinar on Thursday, I’ll help you paint a clearer difference between the two – and then proceeding the webinar, I’d love to hear your own thoughts to your question!

  • Gini Dietrich

    I’ve watched it and it’s a really good one!

  • Can’t wait!!

  • ginidietrich Eleanor Pierce Haha! If I do, you do, Gini 😉

  • LauraPetrolino My pleasure, Laura! I’m really looking forward to chatting with you all!

  • biggreenpen Excellent! Bring your questions 🙂

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Can’t attend live, so I signed up and look forward to viewing soon! Looks amazing!

  • SusynEliseDuris Excellent! You can always send me your questions via email after you’ve watched the recorded session and I’ll be happy to answer.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Melissa Agnes Thanks.

  • Awesome! Super excited! 

    Oh Applebee’s; even better than that, do you remember the Amy’s Baking Company on the Kitchen Nightmares show when the owners went crazy?? Oooh man. The owners just keep digging their graves.

  • This Eonline headline just makes me LOL!! “Amy’s Baking Company Returning to Reality TV to Prove They’re Not Crazy, Act Crazier Than Ever” Bahahahaha

    I don’t think people like this can be helped. 😉

  • Jen Novotny You’re absolutely right, Jen. You can’t help someone manage a crisis if their mess originated from the person that they truly are and they aren’t looking to learn and evolve. I see cases like this every once in a while and it’s very frustrating – but I suppose it makes for great reality television!

  • annelizhannan Hi Anne, we didn’t tackle this great case study in the webinar… but I might just do that with a blog post! 😉

  • JeremyHusmann

    Darn, I missed it. Has it been recorded? Can I look it up somewhere?

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  • JeremyHusmann Yep! You can download here:

  • SusynEliseDuris

    ginidietrich I missed the email. Was this emailed to folks who signed up but couldn’t attend?

  • SusynEliseDuris I’m investigating!

  • SusynEliseDuris

    ginidietrich Thanks Gini. BTW, I re-signed up and the link back to me, when clicked, said the webinar had ended. FYI.

  • JeremyHusmann

    ginidietrich Thank you very much!

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