Writing a crisis communications manual can be a tedious endeavor. But it’s an important one to get right as a great many different challenges present themselves to a crisis communications team during a crisis.
A well-written manual helps sharpen the focus of a crisis comms team and gives them a basis upon which to prepare for virtually every crisis imaginable. For a crisis comms manual to be effective, however, it should address what I have taken to calling the 4 C’s for a good crisis communications manual:
• Clarity of purpose and information
• Consistency of processes and nomenclature
• Completeness in breadth and depth
• Current and up-to-date with latest company staff and procedures
These requirements are a kind of litmus test for crisis communications manuals. Without them, you risk having a manual that leaves you hanging at a time when your communications team can ill afford to to be arguing over who owns what roles, who reports to whom, or what to do if a key member is off on vacation.
The following is a brief synopsis of the 4 C’s of a good crisis communications manual:
Start by asking if the manual is completely clear what the roles of each of the key participants are? Is there any ambiguity or imprecision of language that could lead somebody to make an erroneous interpretation, potentially resulting in unintended results? Are all abbreviations of key processes, teams and functions used in the crisis communications manual well known for all the users? Are the terms used understandable to all team members, even for non-native speakers? Even though a crisis communications manual is not a regular piece of prose, it will be read quite closely during a crisis and should stand up to a post-crisis review by executives. What’s more, every subject category or section needs to stand on its own; readers can ill afford to waste time scanning a dense document in search of an abbreviation definition.
Is there consistency throughout the crisis communications manual in terms of how tools, processes and resources are referenced? For example, the name of the “crisis communication team” should not co-exist with alternate versions such as “crisis communication group,” “crisis team” or anything other than standard nomenclature. The consistency in wording might appear to be of lesser importance at first sight, but any exercise and real life execution of the manual will be fraught with misunderstandings (and thus mistakes) if terminology is not followed to the letter.
A question to ask yourself is will your crisis communications manual be self-standing or will it end up referring to content from other sources, say a website or different procedure manual? No crisis communications team will be served well by having to scramble — under intense pressure from internal and external stakeholders — in a desperate search for files, message scripts, or media contact information, especially since that information can easily be integrated in the manual. Nor does being complete does mean turning your manual into a massive document from which information is not easily retrievable. The table of contents in section 5 of our crisis communications white paper will serve as an example of how information can be organized effectively in the manual.
Are the cell phone numbers for key participants in the manual the same ones they use today? Is the expert on product safety who you will need to talk to in one of your crisis scenarios still on the job or has he or she been replaced? A crisis communications manual that is not kept up to date at least quarterly is a potential liability. The staff member who receives ownership for ‘soft updates’ can also be the person who wrote the manual in the first place; but any member of the media relations team is capable of handling the task.
The 4 C’s form only one part of the Manzer Communications white paper Writing the crisis communications manual. In this paper you will discover a series of valuable tips on how to write a manual that will help prepare your crisis communications team for any and all future adverse events. The paper also includes an easy to use table of contents to make structuring your manual as painless as possible.
Free Crisis Communications Manual ready to use!
Swyft has made it easy for your company to begin preparing for a future unknown crisis. Our free whitepaper “Writing the crisis communications manual” is available for download and use by your communications team to customize for its own unique needs. The manual lays out step-by-step how to build out your crisis communications plan. It gives you examples of training scenarios to use in workshops, drills and simulations. It even provides you a sample table of contents to help you build out your comprehensive manual.
Crisis Communications services available!
Do you need help writing the manual or training your staff for a crisis? If so, Swyft can help. Our experts provide comprehensive crisis communications services from preparation of manuals and spokesperson training to on-site crisis communication training and live crisis communication consulting.
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