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Planning for a crisis is like getting the best life insurance policy possible — you have long-term protection for family members that you care strongly about, asset protection and, perhaps the most important benefit, peace of mind. The truth of the matter is the impact of a crisis within your organization is not only felt internally, but can have a major impact on outside stakeholders, such as customers, partners, investors and media.

Consider the way your view may have changed when a company whose product you use has experienced a crisis, such as BP’s oil spill, Target’s credit card hack or United’s recent passenger fiasco. Did you stop buying gas from BP? Did you think twice before using a credit card at Target in the proceeding months? The answer is likely yes to both!

It’s imperative to navigate a crisis situation with life insurance, but for communications and marketing, that means careful planning, strategy and relentless execution. Here is a seven-step methodology that is meant to get you thinking, planning and executing your own crisis communications plan well before it’s needed:

1. Build Good Will in Advance
It’s important to communicate regularly with audiences in advance and not just around a crisis. If you have built a community that trusts you, they will more willingly come to your aid in a crisis situation.

2. Be an Accountable Company With a Conscience
If there is a crisis event where your organization is responsible, it is important that you quickly acknowledge the problem and communicate what is being done to fix the issue. An important anecdote — do not be afraid to say you’re sorry. Audiences can be forgiving, but only if you are upfront and transparent about what happened and quickly communicate the next course of action to improving the situation.

3. Respond Quickly, Accurately and Appropriately
The longer you wait to respond, the more crisis can spiral out of control. Make sure you gather all the facts first and then quickly craft the appropriate messaging for the right audiences. Also, make sure your response is appropriate for the level of the crisis. For example, does the situation warrant immediate outbound communication or can it be handled on a case-by-case basis.

4. Message Consistently
You must deliver a consistent message, which should also be the same for both internal and external audiences. Communicating varying messages to different audiences across multiple communications platforms can negatively impact your credibility and/or make you look suspicious.  

5. Prepare the Proper Channels
There will be a number of ways to respond to stakeholders in an audience, and you should be prepared in advance. You may need to use your website to address the concern (in which case you could prepare a site in advance, or at very least will need a responsive web team) or perhaps putting out a single tweet and LinkedIn post will rectify the problem with your audiences.

6. Regroup Post-Crisis
A crisis should be a learning experience. The crisis team should analyze the crisis management effort for lessons post-incident and then integrate those lessons into the overall crisis management plan.

7. Review the Crisis Plan Regularly  
Threats to the organization and staff always evolve. Revisit the crisis plan at least quarterly to ensure that contact information is accurate and that you proactively plan for the most likely crisis scenarios.

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