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Do You Still Need a Crisis Communications Playbook?

June 26, 2024
By Alexander Lyall

Here’s the TLDR, yes. The longer answer is yes, and.

Let’s get into it. An effective crisis playbook should achieve at least three primary objectives:

  • Codifying the process and framework you will rely on when your organization faces its toughest challenges.
  • Providing you with strategic considerations, templates and agreed upon content for your most likely and threatening scenarios.
  • Identifying a plan and process for moving the organization beyond the crisis when you get to the right moment.

These objectives are critical because in a moment of crisis, ordinary business practices don’t match the pace needed to respond. Think I’m wrong? Try and get a contract through procurement in under an hour… good luck.

Ultimately, a crisis communications playbook’s true value is ensuring that the organization has aligned on the responses to critical questions before you’re scrambling to prepare an executive to apologize on YouTube. Those questions include:

  • Who has the final say on decision making?
  • Who is authorized to do what on the communications team? (This is especially true for global organizations)
  • What needs to be reviewed and approved and by whom?
  • Which stakeholders are you going to prioritize and how are you going to reach them?
  • What information do you need in order to formulate your response and ensure your stakeholders have the information they need?
  • How can you get out of the quagmire that comes with fighting the fire right in front of you and think strategically about the larger event and response?
  • What are the values or principles that will guide decision-making when you’re faced with a problem that forces you to deprioritize profit for safety or the long-term viability of the business?

That said, sometimes playbooks lay forgotten in times of crisis. A dusty playbook represents a failing on two fronts:

  1. Your playbook no longer fits the needs of your org and therefore needs to be updated to ensure you have streamlined materials with templates and considerations that strengthen your response (or the need to explore alternative mediums, like an app or others).
  2. You don’t have a culture that prioritizes crisis preparedness and are either overconfident in your abilities or love living life on the edge.

The first point speaks for itself, the second requires explanation.

Amid an increasingly polarized stakeholder landscape and corporate environment that prioritizes extreme efficiency, organizations are navigating operational and reputational disruptions weekly if not daily. Some organizations have grown confident in their ability to survive these situations, however, these don’t rise to the tenor of a crisis, when the future viability of the business is on the line and your employees, customers or others are in peril due to your practices.

It is incumbent upon organizations to ensure they are doing their due diligence and are prepared to meet or even exceed the expectations of their stakeholders in the face of a true disaster. That said, while having the right crisis playbook can be an invaluable resource, it is only as effective as the culture surrounding it.

A culture that prioritizes crisis preparedness understands the importance of ensuring processes are established and followed, recognizes that decisions should be contingent on the identification of facts and data, and utilizes forethought as an invaluable tool when navigating moments of extreme pressure. That crisis readiness culture is realized and reinforced when an organization’s leadership team requires the following:

  • The establishment of principles that will guide-decision making in times of crisis.
  • A requirement that those charged with responding to crisis situations test and train the muscles required to do so through dynamic simulations and explorations of crisis response methodologies.
  • Ongoing intelligence reports on the wider-risk landscape and regular briefings on how others are redefining and incorporating best practices to navigate their toughest challenges.

In summary, yes you need a playbook, but if you have a playbook that is collecting dust, it is probably better than nothing, though not by much. The best playbook in the world isn’t going to do much good if you’re not meeting your responsibility in maintaining a culture that prioritizes readiness.

The last four years have demonstrated how quickly a crisis can hit – society and organizations. Increasingly C-level executives and boards of directors expect a crisis playbook, plan and practice to be in place for their organization.

If it has been over a year since you last looked at your playbook, then it’s time to reevaluate your overall readiness. There are plenty of organizations that wish they had.