Guest contributor: Jo Detavernier, SCMP, APR – VP and Partner with Swyft.
The Crisis Communications Team (CCT) is the team of professionals within the organization that manages the communication function during a crisis.
This team works closely with the Crisis Management Team (CMT) that makes the important decisions pertaining to crisis communications, business continuity and disaster recovery, the three important management activities that need to be undertaken efficiently and effectively during a crisis.
How do you get the CCT to do its job? Well, for it to start working it needs to be switched on.
Sounds simple, right? Sadly, this is where things often go wrong in how crisis communication plans are conceived. What follows are four considerations for anyone designing a CCT activation processes.
Make clear up front who can activate the CCT.
It will be different from one company to another which senior manager(s) can activate the CCT. This responsibility should not lie with anyone who is not part of the communication function. For good measure, the responsibility to activate the CCT does not belong to a certain person, but to a certain function. A company could, for example, decide that the Head of Corporate Communications can activate the CCT. Within the organization back-ups for the titulary owner(s) of this (and every other!) responsibility need to be identified. If Jane is the Head of Corporate Communications, then who takes on her responsibility for activating the CCT is she is not available? It is Tom or is it Suzie? Professionally managed crisis preparedness will entail back-up provisions that are tied into the vacation planning schedule, ensuring that a titular owner of a crisis communications responsibility and his or her back-up will never be allowed to go on paid leave at the same time.
Make sure to also have the non-operational crisis covered.
For anyone being able to activate the CCT he or she will have to be informed about an incident that warrants CCT activation. Often there are sufficient lines of communication drawn for this person to be informed of an operational crisis, but there is a lack of information flowing through for a non-operational crisis that needs reputation management (in other words: a scenario with crisis communications involved, but no need for business continuity and disaster recovery). In other words, you want the person who is responsible for activating the CCT to not only be informed immediately about any fire outbreak in your building, but also about any and all public statements from government officials that are potentially damaging to your company’s reputation.
Related: What should media engagement look like in the first 60 minutes of a crisis?
Have activation of the CCT automatically followed by activation of staff that make up the CCT.
The CCT only functions as a whole when the different members that make up the CCT are activated, so once the CCT is switched on all staff that make up the CCT need to be alerted as quickly as possible. Different options are available. The head of the CCT could decide to activate a subset of the CCT members at his or her discretion. Another option is that a process is kicked off whereby all members of the CCT are activated automatically (by the CCT lead or someone else) and you might even consider always alerting the back-ups, whether they are needed or not.
Have an off button in place.
Any process that is activated should also be deactivated. When a decision is made that the CCT is deactivated (whoever makes that the decision, and it is recommended that for simplicity’s sake these are the same people who decide on the activation of the CCT), every member should be alerted that the CCT is no longer in function. This means that all the different duties that the crisis communication manual imposes on a CCT that is running, are no longer applicable. The deactivation process will be especially useful in a system where you automatically alert all the backups at the time of CCT activation, asking them to be on stand-by and keep their phone lines open.