Find more articles on crisis communications in the May 2022 issue of Strategies & Tactics.
As an incoming local Chapter president, I had a lengthy list of tasks to prepare for the new year — update the Chapter website, confirm the January program, write my newsletter column and plan the next board meeting. Not on my list? Managing a Chapter crisis.
Unfortunately, crises don’t usually give advance notice. They are like tires. Sometimes they have a slow leak. You don’t know there’s a problem until your tire is low, but you can fix it with a free plug from your local tire shop. Other times they blow out after hours, sending your car careening down the highway.
As president, I was the newly appointed driver of the Chapter bus. It was my job to work with the mechanics (aka the board of directors) to assess and correct the problem, while also informing the passengers (the members) of the situation (the crisis) and preparing them for the road ahead (the strategic plan). I had a destination, a nice navigation system and a spare, but I didn’t have any instructions (crisis plan) on how to replace the tire.
As strategic communicators, we know the importance of planning for a crisis. Yet, according to a 2020 PR News survey, only 62% of companies have a crisis plan. I’d venture to say the percentage of PRSA Chapters with a plan is considerably lower.
As Chapter leaders, we have an obligation to prepare for emergencies and unexpected events. If we don’t, then we may pay a higher price than necessary to get to our destination.
Thanks to our talented board, we responded and resolved the crisis, but we could have made more informed decisions and saved time if we had a plan. I made a resolution that future drivers would have a well-stocked emergency kit. That’s why I organized a team of volunteers to develop a Chapter crisis plan that future boards can refine to meet their needs.
Your roadmap to creating a crisis plan
Here are a few tips to help create your Chapter crisis plan:
- Sell the destination. Make sure that the Chapter board knows the importance of crisis planning. Consider whether there was a time you could have used a plan or if there might be a time you will need one.
- Know your resources. Is there a plan in place? Are any board members proficient in crisis planning? If so, then you are off to a running start. If not, then at least you know what’s needed.
- Assemble a crew. Assign a board member to lead three to four people to work on a crisis plan. They don’t have to be crisis experts, but they should be willing to commit to several months of work.
- Read a guidebook (or two). There are several resources on crisis planning, including books, PRSA courses and webinars. Pick one, study it as a team and then follow the steps to writing a plan. Our Chapter used the PRSA Crisis Communication Certificate Program, Cutlip & Center’s “Effective Public Relations,” Gartner and our own experiences on the job.
- Don’t forget about your emergency kit. Once the plan is documented, save it somewhere that your team can access it. Socialize it with the board, practice scenarios and update it regularly.
Follow these steps so you can enjoy the journey and the destination. Remember, a few months of careful planning can save you a few years of heartache.
If your Chapter has a crisis plan or is putting one in place, then I’d love to hear from you. Let’s connect to make our Chapters stronger together.
Pamela Thompson, MBA, APR, is a past president of PRSA’s Dallas and the Greater Fort Worth Chapters. She serves as the manager of internal communications for AllianceRx Walgreens Prime, a specialty and home delivery pharmacy. Over the course of her career, Thompson has provided strategic planning, writing, executive counsel, change management, media relations and project management for corporate, education and nonprofit organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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