It is not easy to get senior management to listen to communicators about the importance of crisis communication plans. Quite often, executives will perceive crises and emergencies only in terms of an operational response (“Put the fire out and return to full operations ASAP.”). This is an extremely frustrating attitude to encounter. Those executives will need to be convinced of the impact on the organization’s operations and therefore its profitability before they take full notice of your communication plan. (In a government agency the discussion would need to be about the impact on efficiency and the government’s attitude to a public shambles.) At least, in a sense, the COVID catastrophe around the world has forced executives to take more notice of potential crises. This will make it easier to convince top management with your crisis communication plan.
How to convince top management of the importance of your crisis communication plan
A great crisis communication plan is only as good as the extent to which it is implemented. Here are some ideas to get senior management to respect your crisis communication and support its implementation:
For a start, you can include these information lists on US crises in recent years:
Types of crises
Image: from the Institute of Crisis Management.
- Be an ambassador of communication. Every person in your organization involved in emergency management should know your first name and face. Meet the emergency-procedures planners informally and ask them how they think better communication with key stakeholders would help them achieve their mission..
- Brief other departmental managers and staff on their internal communication role in crisis situations.
- Hold simulations showing how internal and external crisis communication is key to solving various types of crises.
- Arrange for an external speaker to address your executive team about how a crisis was solved, with a subtle or unsubtle plug for the corporate communication role.
- Inform senior managers of clear objectives for communication in a crisis. When many emergency response planners think of ‘communication’ they tend to think of two-way radios or other forms of telecommunication. It might be better to use terms like ‘stakeholder information’ or ‘public communication’ in a crisis.
- Tell senior managers how the overall response and recovery operation is more effective with an investment in crisis communication activities. In fact, poor crisis communication could destroy the organization.
- Always ensure you have fully completed your allotted tasks in the preparation of a crisis communication plan that you bring to discuss at the committee meeting. Other people can tell if you have rushed your preparation or if you have neglected parts of it, so they will lose respect if you have failed to honor your commitments.
- Since most executives are busy with their day-to-day activities, they tend to put off the time needing to be spent on emergency and crisis response activities. You can take the initiative and systematically arrange meetings with each of them to discuss the emergency response plan and the important communication role.
- There are many high-profile examples you can cite of good and bad examples of crisis communication to back your case. Document each example concisely and circulate the documents in a regularly spaced series, ie a month or two apart, to management to drive your message home to them. Search for recent examples within your industry or sector, and you can even interview the head of communication in some of them to get some great quotes and feedback about the lessons they learned from experiencing their organizational crisis. COVID-19 responses would give you some excellent examples you can use to strengthen your case with senior management.
Any concerns about management not understanding the importance of crisis communication must be addressed in the pre-crisis planning phase. You need to be proactive and meet with the emergency response planners now. Show them your competence and expertise. Be energetic. Set your own time aside for thinking through and documenting for your reference any action points. Act promptly on those action points.
A further thought is to get your team to work through the table, opposite, to estimate on a scale of 1 to 10 the probability of the crises to which your organization is most likely to be prone, as well as the possible financial impact of each type. Then you could explore how far you could take discussion of this up the corporate ladder to see the extent of interest in the implications.
Image, right: Crisis categories, 2018-2020, Institute for Crisis Management annual report 2021.
What will cause your next organizational crisis?
You can read more about causes of crises in my article: “What will cause your next organizational crisis?” This information will be valuable in helping you to convince top management with your crisis communication plan.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.