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No one wants to require crisis communication services, but a crisis communication management plan can be invaluable when the proverbial "stuff" hits the fan.

Developing your crisis communication plan involves various factors that work together to build a strong defense against whatever an emerging crisis can throw at your organization.

It's been said time and again, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. To avoid failing at navigating a crisis, your planning needs to be intentional and your management needs to be solid.

Keeping the following five fundamental crisis communication building blocks in mind will help you successfully navigate any situation, large or small, that arises.

1. Start with team-building

Not every person on your team is cut out to manage a crisis. By building the strongest, most capable team, you can secure a formidable defense against emerging crises.

Pay close attention to whom you invite to your crisis management team, and carefully evaluate the strengths of each team member. If you have someone on your team adept at handling the media, recognizing that strength by putting that person on your crisis communication team shows good leadership and delegation ability.

Any response to a crisis should be discussed within the team before being settled on. There should be no risk of a team member's "going rogue" and responding to the crisis independently instead of following the plan. The members of your crisis communication team should be levelheaded and known for their ability to clearly evaluate a situation, and they should be great team players.

2. Plan to fail

Crises, whether large or small, can happen to anyone. If you believe your organization is immune, you're fooling yourself. Ignoring the potential for crisis ensures that one will blindside you, and without a team in place, your organization will be completely unprepared to navigate the crisis successfully.

Although planning to fail—i.e., planning for a crisis—may seem a "glass half empty" approach, it really isn't. Planning for a crisis is confronting the reality of living and working in the real world—especially one connected to social media and everything that entails.

Information travels around the world in the blink of an eye, and it can be challenging to rein in damaging information once it hits the Internet.

3. Create lists and fact sheets

Successful planning for a crisis takes research, list-making and fact-sheet-building. Using situations other organizations may have encountered as a blueprint, an effective crisis management team should create lists of questions that may be asked amid a crisis situation..

When a crisis occurs, response time is critically important. Having lists and fact sheets already created will allow an organization to respond to situations quickly, without fumbling.

4. Establish clear guidelines

The main job of the crisis communication team is to establish clear guidelines for navigating the crisis—for example, who is and isn't allowed to speak with the media.

When a crisis hits, it is crucial to control the message from the word "go." Controlling the message involves every team member's knowing who will be involved in direct communication and what message they will be putting out into the world.

Establishing guidelines also involves communicating them to the rest of the employees—the people who are not on the crisis communication team. They, too, should understand how the organization plans to handle a crisis and what their role is in that plan.

Clear guidelines allow everyone to be on the same page. When a crisis happens, the stress of the situation can confuse. Clear guidelines work to avoid confusion. They are a road map for when the road gets rocky.

5. Understand the risks involved in crisis management

Sometimes it is impossible to avoid fallout when a crisis occurs. No matter how much you work to control the message, it can be misconstrued. No matter how much a team researches possible questions or solutions pre-emptively, it can be blindsided by something unexpected.

A good management plan should include risk assessment. What are the risks associated with a chosen path of management? The team should brainstorm what could happen if it chooses to address the crisis in one way or another.

The crisis communication team also needs to evaluate how clients or customers may be affected by its crisis response. It is far better to be prepared for backlash than to be caught off guard, desperately stammering for a prompt and effective response.

* * *

In most cases, a crisis cannot be avoided. A situation that hits your organization could be small and relatively manageable—or catastrophic and headline-making.

Having a well-structured plan and putting the right talent in place to manage crisis communication is the best way to make sure a crisis situation doesn't bring your organization to its knees.

More Resources on Crisis Management

Marcomms Is Different From Crisis Comms: Here's How to Handle Crises

Reaching and Persuading Buyers at a Time of Crisis: What B2B CMOs Can Do

What Consumers Expect From a Brand in Crisis

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image of Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is a publicist at OtterPR, a PR strategy and tactics company. He has 10+ years of public relations and crisis communication experience.

LinkedIn: Josh Wilson