PlanB Consulting

Crisis Communications – Do You Have a Team?

Charlie lists his suggestions for organising your incident management to include communications roles, and what that may look like.

I thought I would leave events in Ukraine to the newspapers and TV this week, and talk about crisis communications teams. Over the last six months, we have been conducting lots of exercises, cyber being one of the main scenarios, but we have also had protestors, GDPR issues, fires, acid leaks and extreme weather. One of the learning points from almost every exercise has been the lack of communications staff.

Most organisations when they deploy their crisis management team, have at least one communication person included within the team. They very quickly become overwhelmed by the number of tasks they have to perform simultaneously. The majority of organisations recognise the importance of communication as an element of their response, so they want their communications person to play a full role in putting forward their ideas into team meetings, and developing a communications response strategy and communication materials. At the same time as they are doing all of the above, they are also required to write press statements! During our exercises we use a media and a social media simulator, the person heading up communications has to monitor these two channels and report updates to the team. They are expected to do all these tasks simultaneously.

We have suggested in numerous post-exercise reports that people in communications need to bring along a team of people to the exercise, and have them on call for real events. Yesterday, Jamie and I conducted a crisis communications exercise. When I suggested that the client should bring along the whole team, they replied that their communications team only consisted of two people. When there is only a small communications team, we suggest that the company trains up more people who can perform non-specialist communication roles. Tasks such as media and social media monitoring don’t need years of experience to carry out.

Currently, I am working with a team of people to update the Business Continuity Institute’s ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ for 2022. Within the crisis communication section, I have suggested that the following roles need to be performed to enable an organisation to fully respond to the communications element of an incident and also provide either the strategic/crisis team or the tactical team with situational awareness.

Not every task needs a dedicated person to carry it out, but all the tasks should be carried out. The content and complexity of the communications plan and the number of people within the communications team will be dependent on the size of the organisation, its threats, regulatory requirements, risks, the size and impact of possible disruptions. See below the roles I suggest need to be carried out.

Tasks for the communications team could include:

1. Designating a communications professional to sit in as part of the strategic/crisis team or the tactical team. This is usually the most senior communications person within the organisation.

2. There may be a role for someone to be a runner/liaison between the communications person on the incident team and the communications team. This means that communications can be written by the wider communications team and sent to the incident team to be signed off.

3. Developing internal and external communications. Ensuring that these communications are cascaded throughout the organisation and that all parts of the organisation are using the same communications scripts and lines.

4. Media monitoring, liaison and facilitation which will include a manned and dedicated media phone line to liaise with the media about the incident.

5. Updating the website.

6. Developing materials and then keeping them updated, this should include questions and answers that can be used as scripts for customer-facing or call centre staff.

7. Social media monitoring and engagement.

8. Internal communications facilitation, liaison, feedback and listening.

9. Liaison with technical specialists where technical communications or advice has to be given externally.

10. External communications, including liaison with those who have communications roles at a tactical and operational level.

11. Collating sentiment and attitudes across all platforms, assessing the penetration and compliance with messaging and presenting these findings regularly to the strategic team. They may then adjust their strategy in light of the findings.

12. Preparing and briefing the designated spokesperson(s).

13. The team may also contact external communications professionals and crisis communications advisors.

Where people have communications roles, they should be trained in their role and have the opportunity to practise as part of their organisation’s exercise programme.

About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

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