From the Colorado theater shootings to the Penn State scandal to the London preparations for the Olympics, each major event today has at least one thing in common: They require a crisis communications plan. Whether the plan was used effectively in each case will be up for debate once sufficient time has passed for evaluation, but we can learn lessons from these occurrences now.
- Your firm needs not just any crisis plan, but an effective one. When was the last time you looked at your crisis plan? If it’s been more than a year, you need to dust it off and make changes. As this article points out, “too many crisis communications plans put together by corporations over the past two decades consist primarily of large binders of procedures, templates, and contact lists gathering dust behind senior executives’ desks. Sometimes, these crisis plans are coupled with a software or Intranet-based solution that was cutting edge and relevant . . . in 2003.” In the age of Twitter, social media and a 24-hour news cycle, there’s no time to spend hours or days trying to go over the plan, gather data and issue a response. Quick action is needed on your part to get in front of the story.
- You need an effective representative. Is someone designated as the spokesperson for the firm? Most firms would automatically default to the managing partner, but is s/he skilled in interacting with the media and answering potentially tough questions? Is s/he easily accessible? If not, you may need to look deeper within the firm to find the right person to be the face of your firm in a crisis. You may need to invest in media training. And make sure everyone in the firm knows who that designated spokesperson is.
- You need to evaluate. Once the crisis has passed, it’s critical for the firm to evaluate its handling of the crisis and put procedures in place to improve its response to the next crisis. This is also the time to show how the firm is making things better – that something good has come out of the crisis. It’s important to continue to monitor what’s being said online about the firm and to work on search engine results.
- You need to counteract. Bad news doesn’t have to last forever. Put out as much good news about the firm as you can to push down the negative coverage.
Crises happen, even in law firms, so be prepared. Don’t have a crisis plan? Download Jaffe’s Crisis Policy template and tailor it to meet your firm’s particular needs.
Zaneta Hubbard is a vice president with Jaffe PR. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.