© Martin-Wilbourn Partners 2017
Throughout our careers senior members of our team have managed crises and issues ranging from allegations of improper executive conduct and financial malfeasance; to controversial organizational changes; to fears of nuclear contamination; to natural disasters and the impact on utilities; to workforce and campus violence; to forced resignations and firings of key leadership and the resulting transition issues and litigation.
Our approach to crisis readiness incorporates our commitment to evidence-based communications, leveraging research and data in every step of the communications process to be sure strategies and tactics are based on empirical evidence, not guesswork.
Crisis Communications Capability Overview
Successful crisis communication management involves a strategic, proactive response, which can only be accomplished through extensive preparation. The Martin-Wilbourn Partners team has crisis communications specialists who have experience that extends from fraud and malfeasance to litigation, utility safety, and a myriad of other scenarios. We work alongside management when customers, employees, families, media, stakeholders, activists, regulators and governmental agencies are all demanding immediate answers and action.
Crisis & Issues Management
Although crises can rarely be predicted, they can often be anticipated and must be met quickly with straightforward, persuasive and media-savvy responses. Proper preparedness and management can preserve and protect an organization’s reputation, brand equity and market share, as well as the confidence of its customers, employees, media, and other stakeholders.
Martin-Wilbourn Partners has a strong track record of helping clients handle major crises. While we prefer to develop the crisis program and review the execution of the plan in advance of an actual crisis event, we can mobilize an experienced crisis team to aid organizations in time of crisis at any time, anywhere in the country.
Some of our specific specialties include:
Crisis procedure guidelines
Coordination of crisis communications tasks/roles/responsibilities
Key message development
Development of tools/resources
Online communications back-sites/social media
As identified and required by the client, Martin-Wilbourn Partners can help manage issues through a variety of activities including:
Joint educational programs
Media support campaigns
Media Monitoring – general media and social networks
Once contracted, Martin-Wilbourn Partners will help establish and maintain relationships with relevant non-governmental organizations, regulators, and industry insiders that allow us to stay current on the latest trends and research, as well as legislative and regulatory changes which may affect our client’s industry. We use information from all of these diverse resources, so we can provide our clients with experienced counsel to allow the client to be in front of the issues. Being in front of issues allows us to help the client define strategies and a plan of action to accomplish your goals, on your terms.
Crisis Preparedness and Management
Martin-Wilbourn Partners will work with the client to be fully prepared for any crisis with activities that include risk assessment, emergency planning analysis, crisis communications manuals, crisis simulations, media relations, constituency briefings, employee training and communications, customer information and a proprietary system for maintaining “black” websites and other social/digital resources for crisis preparedness and active management support of crisis situations.
The Winning Formula For Crisis Planning
Crisis planning and preparedness are fundamental elements of effective media and public relations management because violence, natural disasters or serious accidents can strike without warning. Information travels with unprecedented speed in today’s world, an incident or issue can escalate into a crisis almost instantaneously. When the worst happens, swift and pointed communication is vital, whether in saving lives or protecting organizational reputation.
Our formula for effective crisis planning is Knowledge + Action = Readiness. We believe the best programs are grounded in a full examination and understanding of a client’s operational and structural dynamics, potential vulnerabilities, and stakeholder attitudes, perceptions and expectations. On this foundation we then build a tangible action plan that ensures the organization is prepared for adversity, including scenario-based crisis plan development, simulation exercises and training.
We have created crisis preparedness programs for private and for-profit corporations, trade associations, utilities, airports, coalitions and nonprofit organizations across a wide array of service areas and industries. The mix-and-match elements of our crisis readiness program enable clients to create a program from the ground up, or review and build on existing components. We have developed plans that focus on a single issue or vulnerability that poses a serious threat, as well as comprehensive programs that anticipate many types of crises.
Our crisis readiness program includes the following steps:
- Identify threats
- Create or modify a crisis plan
- Test and fine-tune
- Roll out and train
- Review and update
A Vulnerabilities Assessment is a formalized, interactive process that enables organizations to identify and prioritize potential crisis scenarios, determine which potential scenarios are most in need of crisis communications planning, and evaluate existing plans and resources for dealing with them. The process starts with intensive review and/or analysis of information such as:
Operations, product/service offerings, facility and human resources
Management structure and organizational culture
Existing communications tools (including digital)
Existing brand, reputation and market research
Past issues, crises, responses
Legislative and regulatory environment
Media coverage history
Digital/social media presence
Specialized areas of focus are included due to federal regulations and the heightened vulnerability to accidents or violence – such as aviation incidents, workplace violence, terrorist acts, chemical spills, and volatile political environments.
We then conduct survey research of key personnel, usually through in-person meetings and guided by customized questionnaires, regarding potential crises and the organization’s ability to manage them. In some cases we also survey external stakeholders, such as key customers, regulators, community leaders or business partners.
Threats are plotted on a Risk Map, prioritized by likelihood of occurrence and potential impact on the client. Risk mapping helps focus a company’s planning resources in the areas of greatest need. The final Vulnerabilities Assessment will list, describe and prioritize the risks we have identified, and evaluate the company’s existing crisis plans and resources against the organization’s needs as well as against best practices in crisis management. The assessment will also make recommendations for further crisis planning and preparation.
Create or Modify a Crisis Plan
A crisis communications plan should provide a blueprint for action by laying out structures, action steps, processes and reference materials that enable the crisis team to focus its energy on the most important issues and decisions when time is of the essence. We work with clients to develop a crisis communications plan from scratch or help update and modify existing plans and protocols as required.
The elements of a sound crisis plan includes these steps:
Designates a Crisis Team and clear responsibilities for team members, including how the team will interface with key functions or departments
Establishes over-arching strategic guidelines and messages that are consistent across a range of potential situations or developments
Provides scenario-specific plans for responding to the most likely and/or highest-impact crises
Lays out actions and messages by stakeholder group
Provides tactical checklists, policies, templates and contact lists
Is easily accessible and kept up to date
Test and Fine-Tune
A crisis simulation enables an organization to “road test” the crisis plan by putting the plan and the Crisis Team through a hypothetical crisis situation. Simulations are extremely valuable in helping crisis teams confirm the comprehensiveness of their crisis plans and to see how the team operates and interacts with the plan under pressure. Martin-Wilbourn Partners has created and facilitated a wide range of crisis simulations, from simple “tabletop” exercises to daylong, real-time simulations that closely mimic the evolution of an actual crisis and involve participants at multiple sites. A simulation may also be held as part of a larger, operations-based response drill. Each exercise is carefully tailored to the client to be sure it is realistic, productive and rewarding. Following the simulation, the Crisis Team at Martin-Wilbourn Partners provides an evaluation of the exercise that includes any recommendations for revision of the plan.
Roll Out and Train
A crisis plan should be formally introduced to key individuals of the organization, such as communications/PR personnel, division heads, and/or operations managers who need to know that a plan is in place and what their responsibilities are if it is implemented. Martin-Wilbourn Partners has created a variety of internal rollout programs; these often include group sessions to present not only the plan but also principles for handling the unique challenges of crisis management.
In addition to a full understanding of the crisis plan itself, crisis communications training is essential for any crisis team member or other individual who is likely to be called upon to communicate with media, employees or other stakeholder groups. Training may also be provided in combination with a crisis simulation or plan rollout. Unlike traditional media training, crisis communications training includes specific considerations and techniques needed to communicate effectively with media, employees, consumers and other audiences in a crisis or risk-oriented environment.
Review and Update
A crisis plan should be considered a living document. It should be reviewed regularly and updated as needed to reflect new contact information and other changes. Some organizations tie the update of the crisis plan to a national holiday or company milestone, such as an anniversary, to ensure it is embedded on the calendars of key executives each year. In addition, follow-up crisis simulations should be conducted on a regular basis, often quarterly but no less than annually. Many organizations find it valuable to make crisis-training part of their ongoing training and orientation programs.
Martin-Wilbourn Partners’ traditional emphasis on client service is never more important than in our crisis programs. From the initial establishment of objectives, work plans, and budgets to the follow-up assessment of program results, we understand our clients’ needs for precision, confidentiality, and attention to detail.
We offer clients 24/7 access to our crisis resources. We can put teams where they are needed, when they are needed, at any time. When crises cross regional or national boundaries, we provide the experience and perspective needed to manage dynamics and sensitivities while accomplishing your objectives regardless of where the may be.
Our Crises Experience
Members of Martin-Wilbourn Partners have deep experience in handling crisis communications in a variety of situations, including:
Crisis management in the aftermath of two airline crashes with loss of life in each incident
Forced leadership transitions
Community concerns regarding nuclear plant safety
Shut down of major employer
Mergers and acquisitions
Civil litigation and criminal prosecution
Race, sex and age discrimination claims