ISOC crisis experts help organisations prepare, train and test their crisis communication response

A crisis is the ultimate test of communication. Bad crisis PR destroys brands, whereas strong responses protect or even enhance reputation. Never is communication more crucial, or more challenging. Scrutiny and pressure are intense. That makes crisis preparedness one of the most important responsibilities of every communication department.

The primary success factor for crisis communication is the ability to get the message out fast. Organisations that hit the ground running establish themselves rather than their critics as the go-to source of information. In a weak response, delay signals disorganisation.

Just as important is then to sustain the flow of high-quality information. This transmits an image of competence, transparency and control. In a weak response, silence signals guilt.

Even these basics are impossible without extensive crisis communication planning and preparation. At the height of a crisis, there is no time to develop crisis teams, define policies and processes, train spokespeople, or get multiple documents written and approved.

How ISOC can help

The ISOC crisis consulting team supports companies and organisations of all sizes in planning and preparing for crisis communication. We provide three main service areas: Crisis Preparedness, Crisis Training and Crisis Simulation.

Crisis preparedness

Crisis audit

Most organisations have crisis resources in place, but they are not always complete and tend not to be up to date – and it isn’t always easy from the inside to see what is missing.

We work alongside communication directors to conduct a crisis preparedness audit, in which we compare existing strategies, plans and resources to our own database of international best practice and our own experience of how other organisations prepare for crisis communication. This is always a constructive process: we are not looking for problems, but rather areas where attention will pay off.

Issues mapping

In order to prepare, it helps to know what we are preparing for. Some crises are totally unpredictable, but most arise from known risks that are either specific to your organisation (e.g. oil spill, product recall) or common to all (e.g. employee misconduct, financial scandals, data breaches).

The ISOC crisis consulting team helps clients to conduct a structured Issues Mapping process.  This usually involves facilitated workshops drawing together many departments and business units where a crisis might begin, including less obvious places such as HR. The output is a prioritised list of crisis events that are most likely, most damaging or both.

Content

This priority issues list becomes an input for crisis resource generation. For the highest priority scenarios, we will develop issue-specific messages and templates for urgently needed documents such as holding statements, press releases, social media posts and microsites.

Other topic-specific resources can be developed in full such as fact sheets, infographics, FAQ documents, media briefing documents, biographies, stock photography and video B-roll.

Red book

The crisis communication team will need immediate access to a range of crisis resources, even if the crisis itself has disrupted access to normal locations, systems and networks. The ISOC crisis consulting team will work to develop an electronic “red book” containing all essential crisis resources from media, staff and stakeholder contact lists to crisis team responsibilities.

Systems

We will help to define a structure of roles and responsibilities for the crisis communication team, and its interface with senior management as part of the broader crisis response. We will develop protocols and standard operating procedures, including information cascades.

External resources

Where a large-scale crisis communication response may be required, we will advise on the provisioning of third party support, such as agency-operated call centres, venues for crisis news conferences, upgraded crisis media monitoring, and SEO/SEM services.

Crisis training and simulation

Crisis training for communication professionals

Public courses

ISOC provides training courses for crisis PR team members on a range of crisis communication topics. The following short courses run regularly at our public training centres in London and Dubai:

In-house courses

ISOC also regularly delivers customised crisis training programmes for organisations needing to focus on in-house topics, or work with sensitive information.

Our training team in London or Dubai would be happy to discuss your needs.

Crisis media training for spokespeople

The outside world often sees an organisation’s crisis response through one primary filter: the performance of its main spokesperson in media interviews. This is a critical element and one that often goes wrong.

Crisis interviews can be intimidating and don’t bring out the best in executives, particularly at a time when they are likely to be busy, stressed and tired. The media are also at their worst: pushy, aggressive, looking for mistakes and blame.

Crisis media training helps organisations take back control of this key element of crisis response. Media training can build universal strategies for answering difficult questions, awareness of how to manage journalists in a crisis, confidence to cut the right presence on screen, as well as reminding bosses to prioritise the media dimension of crisis response.

Media training is a main service area at ISOC. For details, see the media training section.

Crisis simulation

The ISOC crisis team regularly delivers crisis simulation exercises for large organisations wishing to test and develop the effectiveness of their crisis and crisis communication response systems.

Training is always based on a realistic rolling scenario designed in advance in collaboration with a small closed group within the communication team. The scenario unfolds as information is revealed step by step on a schedule that mirrors the information phases of a real crisis, from initial confusion and scarcity of facts to information overload.

The communication and PR team is expected to work from its crisis communication plan and resources, including using templates to create messages, draft statements and press releases, compose social media updates, advise management, brief spokespeople and take calls from journalists.

For added realism we create mock-ups of media reports including TV packages and social media feeds. Trainers role-play journalists and other stakeholders and simulate press conferences and ambush interviews to test and practice spokesperson skills.

The learning model can operate live, semi-live or as a table-top exercise. A typical simulation lasts one or two days, to give time to test all dimensions of the response.

ISOC also simulates crisis communication as part of an operational crisis exercise in which executives run the practical response to a crisis in coordination with a comms team running the communication response. We also run simultaneous distributed simulations for teams split across multiple locations, cities, countries and time zones.

Case studies

  • Crisis media training for more than 100 spokespeople over five years at a top-five global airline.
  • Live crisis communication simulation for a top-10 global oil company, involving three locations on two continents.
  • Semi-live combined crisis operation and communication simulation for a globally renowned university.
  • Media simulation add-on for a full-scale spill and explosion drill at a Fortune Global 500 chemicals company.
  • Crisis media training for the entire Cabinet of a major national government.