Risk management communications: planning for the worst, coming out best

4 Dec

Risk management communicationsWhen a crisis happens, it’s too late to wish you had a Risk Management Communications Plan in place

By Kathryn Britt

Good governance has many aspects. When risk management is discussed, organisations first look to meeting statutory obligations but often put other risk management components in the “too hard” basket.

Most businesses have prepared emergency operations plans and business continuity plans to deal with a crisis. But their brand and reputation is not properly protected unless there is also a crisis communications plan in place.

For some industries, such as financial services, it has been a statutory requirement to have a Risk Management Communications Plan.

For other industries it is not required by law – but it is best practice.

If an issue or full blown crisis occurs, it’s too late to start thinking about what communications strategies you need.

To ensure your organisation doesn’t enter the “what not to do” list of PR disasters that includes the likes of BP (for their reaction to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and Gasp retail (for their harsh treatment of a client that received saturation TV, radio and social media coverage), you should commit time and resources to a decent plan.

A worthwhile plan is not from a “cookie cutter” template, it is tailored specifically for an individual business and will recognise the industry that business is operating in.

It will look at likely risk scenarios, taking into account your organisation’s history and risk profile.

It’s also important that the plan provide systems and tools to deal with those totally unexpected scenarios that can cripple a business, especially in today’s fast-paced world of social media engagement.

A properly formulated communications plan will ensure that your people are prepared, and know what their roles would be in a crisis.

It will identify your key stakeholders and provide background and assessment on specific risks and best methods of communications to these diverse groups.

Consider essentials such as:

  • Who to have on your crisis team and how best to train them (because your plan is only as good as the team tasked with implementing it)
  • Positioning and key messages
  • Spokespeople (and it’s not always the CEO who is best)
  • Media policies and procedures
  • Best communication methods for different audiences and situations
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Template materials
  • Interview tips and media training

A Risk Management Communications Procedures Manual can help your organisation stay calm and communicate clearly.

It should be a living document, regularly updated – not a 200 page manual that is written, paid for and never looked at again.

Ideally it will contain easy-to-read checklists, because in a crisis you don’t want to be flicking through an enormous manual reading pages and pages of text to find what you are looking for.

Lastly, the plan should include performance indicators so you can document evidence of whether you achieved the desired outcome.

 * An extended version of this article first appeared as a blog on Directors Australia website www.directorsaustralia.com.au

Kathryn Britt is managing director of public relations consultancy Cicero Communications. Call her for a confidential discussion about your risk management communications needs.



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