When Things Go Wrong: Planning for a Crisis

In uncertain times, having a plan to navigate your way out of a crisis isn't a luxury. It's 100% a necessity, and a often a question of business continuity and survival.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered huge changes in the world economy, with whole sectors under threat. Some have been hit hard, some will recover only with time. Others are suffering in the opposite way — experiencing the complications of increased demand and growth. In these unsettled times, the chances of a real crisis happening within a company have increased exponentially. It could happen to your company, if it hasn’t already — so are you prepared?

Crisis communications planning was always important, but in this era of lightning-speed social media, it’s now absolutely imperative.

You need to have a communications plan in place so that when a crisis hits, everyone can swing into action immediately, knowing what’s expected. Response rates have to be super-fast these days- don’t leave yourself in a position where your management team are trying to figure out what to say, while “cancel culture” is knocking at the door!

So what IS a crisis anyway?

What’s a crisis, anyway? Well, we define a crisis as an unexpected event that creates high levels of uncertainty, and from a corporate perspective, poses a threat to reputation. Having a crisis communications plan, for when things go wrong, is an essential part of risk management where it comes to your company’s reputation.

External vs. internal crises

A crisis can be external or internal. Floods, earthquakes, pandemics- these are external crises. Internal crises are caused by something your company did or didn’t do: e.g. systems failures, financial mismanagement, or an explosion at a factory. Both types have the potential to ruin your reputation- if you don’t handle communications properly.

Here’s what you can do about it

Planning ahead is key. Sit down with your leadership team and facilitators – like those at HWM – who can help you to identify key issues and steer you towards solution-based thinking. Look at what might trigger a crisis in your company. What might cause it- and what might make it worse?

Frameworks, policies and processes need to be kept up to date– but so do people. Evaluation, education and regular revisions are important, to keep abreast of new potential threats to reputation.

It is vital to have a reporting structure for crisis situations worked out beforehand, and updated regularly. Who’s going to be in charge of fixing the crisis? Is that same person going to be in charge of communications for the crisis? What responsibilities will each member of the team have?

Spokespeople are going to be the faces of your communications plan. Who’s going to speak to the media? How will they know what the messages are? It’s vital that your spokespeople have done proper media training, at a basic level AND within the framework of crisis communications. (There’s no use training someone to be confident in front of camera if they fall apart the minute a tough question is asked!) Also, check out our tips on leading from the front in a crisis.

Since a crisis is by its nature unpredictable, a crisis communications plan needs to be ultra-flexible. So we’re not talking about a paint-by-numbers blueprint here. Rather, it’s a “state of constant readiness” of all the people and policies involved, that is worked out beforehand, and constantly rehearsed and updated, so everyone is “match fit” to face the unexpected.


Bottom line: A crisis comms plan isn’t a luxury. In today’s world, particularly given the year we’ve seen, it’s an absolute essential. Have one ready. The team at HWM can help. Or, if you’ve got your crisis comms plan in place, we can reinforce your preparation by media training your key spokespeople.