Sandy: A Harsh Reminder to Revisit the Crisis Communication Plans

Hurricane Sandy has justifiably consumed our thoughts and energy over the last week. Our hearts go out to everyone who has experienced the devastating effects of the disaster. We are thankful that everyone in our NYC office weathered the storm safely and our office is getting back to a relative state of normal (and hopefully will continue to despite Mother Nature’s latest furious storm).

The catastrophe taught us a number of lessons; among them – a fresh reminder of the importance that all organizations must have a crisis plan that considers worst case scenarios. Whether you have the shell of a crisis plan, a full-blown plan or no plan at all, it’s time to take another look at whether you’ve done appropriate scenario planning.

“[Leaders – and I would add brands] are judged by how well you prepare in advance for a crisis, not just by what you do when it hits,” as Morten Hansen, a professor at UC Berkeley and INSEAD, wrote in a piece for HBR’s blog on how leaders can more successfully anticipate and respond to crises, turbulence and other disruptive change that is increasingly commonplace in today’s world.

For me – and probably many other marketers – crisis communication planning usually evokes thoughts of having a protocol in place for communicating bad news related to a company or its employees, or how to reach employees in an emergency. We think through who and how we handle each communication platform – the website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  However, Sandy has raised some important issues that may not be factored into your current crisis plan, such as:

  • What happens if a catastrophe affects your entire city?
  • What if power is down? Who and how are you going to communicate? Do you have an alternate location that can be called upon to help? Are there alternative/back-up sources for power that you can tap within a reasonable distance?
  • Do you have a system in place to gather intelligence about your clients’ concerns and questions in the event of a crisis or catastrophe? Are there multiple options and contact points for reaching your organization?
  • Is there a way for employees of your organization to reach someone for information or to communicate critical information in the event of a crisis? And are there back-up plans in the event that those typical methods may not work?
  • What happens if no one can physically get to your office to manage communications from there?
  • Are you treating all people equally in your communications? Or are you recognizing that there may be varying sensitivities? What role does compassion and empathy play in your plan?  There is a good piece on by Davia Temin that offers tips for communicating sensitively following a crisis like Sandy.

No one likes to think about worst case scenarios, but it’s a risk and responsibility that all organizations must prepare for nonetheless and should be revisited at least annually. Consider this helpful resource from crisis management expert Jonathan Bernstein outlining 10 steps for crisis communications to help you prepare. With many organizations in the midst of planning season, marketers are already soliciting input from various parts of the business to factor into their strategies for the coming year. If crisis planning isn’t a part of that dialogue already, now is a good time to start.

What questions do you think it’s important to raise in crisis planning conversations? 

Connect with Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
: Kellie Sheehan