Make It Happen: Six Tips for Establishing a Crisis Communication Plan

A sound communication plan provides a blueprint for managing incidents and knowing where to turn in an emergency.

Jul 18, 2017


Make it Happen

A crisis communication plan is essential across many notable industries—health care, finance, law enforcement, to name a few–but is just as important in higher education. Consider these key factors to prepare for communicating under pressure:

1. Plan proactively. Don’t wait until a crisis hits. Proactive planning in advance of a crisis will go a long way to managing it successfully. Try to predict what types of scenarios may present themselves on your campus (i.e. exam cheating, sexual assault, violent protests, etc.). Prepare communication plans that apply to the different events that may arise so that when a situation hits or shows up in your inbox, you will be prepared to act. For each scenario, develop a risk assessment based on the various kinds of communication methods you might employ and factor this into how you respond.

2. Assess thoroughly and communicate in a timely manner. When a situation does arise, process completely before you communicate internally or externally. Review issues from all angles and process information from all stakeholders. Address issues strategically, so you can anticipate reactions and related challenges that may arise. Understand and agree on what information stakeholders need to know, when the need to hear it, and in what order (e.g. faculty, staff, and students followed by alumni and donors). Be responsive to media to better manage reputation and risk.

3. Partner with legal. It’s essential to include your legal team members in any planning and communications so they can lend perspective around any litigation concerns.

4. Activate a social media plan. We live in 24/7 news cycle world, so be sure to include a social media plan in your crisis communication mix. Monitor conversations on your social media channels and be sure to implement clear and consistent communication across all of them in advance of and during a crisis.

5. Identify and train a media spokesperson and other leaders. Invest in crisis communication training for a spokesperson or any other key members of your leadership team authorized to speak with the media on record so they will be equipped with the ability to understand how a message will resonate with different stakeholders. 

6. Evaluate and improve. Examine the effectiveness of your crisis communication plan after an event so that you can learn from mistakes and improve the process.  Questions to ask might include: Did you respond appropriately? Were all stakeholders included in the planning and response? Did you communicate all relevant information? How was the organization and the spokesperson perceived? Were you seen as calm, informed, and in control of the situation?