When we get a call from a client or company going through a crisis, one of the first items that we grab from our toolkit is our crisis communications checklist. It’s a simple list of starter questions to help generate next steps and answers to some of the critical questions that you will face within the hours, days or even weeks ahead.
Your answers can also help gauge the severity of the situation you may be dealing with and could tell you how proactive you need to be in getting your message out.
Here are a few of the questions we like to ask right out of the gate:
• Was 911 called?
Why do we ask this? Simple. If 911 was called, the chances that the media will be tipped off about your crisis significantly increases. Media outlets monitor local police scanners 24/7 so if you call the police, fire department or paramedics, be on alert and expect some follow up from your local media.
• Has your internal audience been notified?
In public relations we talk a lot about the importance in sequencing in your communications, crisis or not. If you are announcing a mass layoff, organizational embezzlement or have experienced injuries on a job site, it is critical that your employees or stakeholders (such as donors or board of directors) don’t find out from the media or the rumor mill.
• Have you begun to monitor media and online conversations?
As soon as you become aware of a crisis, make sure to set up ways to monitor media and online conversations. This can help in messaging and timing your announcements. You can use a free service like Google Alerts or set up keywords through a paid news monitoring service like Cision or Critical Mention. One other service we have been using to monitor online conversations is Mention.
• Are you taking detailed notes including notations of time?
Identify someone in your organization to take detailed notes regarding the situation. Your notes should include when certain activities have taken place, media request call logs, communication with specific stakeholders and any anticipated questions that you need answered.
If you have a crisis communications plan in place, this checklist would often be one of the very first pages. If you haven’t taken the time to fully develop an entire crisis plan, a good first step would be to put together a checklist of your own. It can help start conversations that your leadership team should be having in the very first (and often most critical) hour that a crisis takes place.