Aug 30, 2016 / by Guest Contributor

A few years ago, many of us would not have envisioned a world where Twitter, Facebook Live and large-scale community gatherings would have such an impact on the way crises develop.

Yet, this is our world today and our “new normal” as communicators and crisis management teams.

So how do we prepare our clients and our organizations for the daunting task of handling the unknown and unexpected? We chart out scenario after scenario, and we discuss our action plans for everything from the most likely to the absolutely absurd. This level of in-depth scenario planning is perhaps the best tool in our arsenal to help us anticipate nearly every possible event.

Scenario planning isn’t just about brainstorming all of the what-ifs one time and developing a canned statement ready to deploy across social and communication channels. Routine maintenance and regular updates are equally important to successful issues management.

Is it time to show your scenario plan some love? Here are 10 tips for keeping you go-time ready.

1. Read the plan on the regular.

Open that document up and marvel at your smarts! You can’t know what’s missing or needed if you aren’t familiar with your current scenarios and action steps.

2. Keep your eyes peeled.

Watch for issues around the globe and the impact they may have on your business, clients, customers and employees. Look at your industry for additional scenarios that might be playing out right before your eyes.

Is there a materials shortage in your supply chain? Perhaps a major cross-border shakeup? How many international organizations were prepared for #Brexit and its impact on their business? Probably more than you think.


3. Host a regular brainstorm to update specific scenarios.

Because you have your finger on the pulse of your organization, it should be easy to come up with new pitfalls. Set this scenario storm at regular intervals – say, once a quarter – or when your business landscape changes, e.g. new office, new international markets, new political climate. Hint: there’s a big election coming up in November.

4. This isn’t the Communications Only Club.

Yes, we tend to be the ones who want to talk about how issues may impact our audiences, but we can’t develop a proper plan without input from our counterparts. Loop in HR, accounting, customer service, area managers and people who have a feel for your operations and your geographic regions.

5. Don’t shy away from the dark stuff.

Go there. Chances are it will never happen, but what’s the harm in discussing all of the what-ifs? At OMA, we’ve dealt with everything from suicide on premises at a client’s business to illegal gambling rings and everything in between.

6. Look for the good.

A major athlete was just spotted with your product in hand? Great! How are you going to jump on this? Movie superstar just tweeted about his love of your travel destination – AH-Mazing! You need a plan for how to manage the good as well as the bad.

7. Evaluate the response team.

As a team-centric PR and social crew, we are always updating our roles and responsibilities documents to ensure we have our aces in their places. Don’t forget to look at your new scenarios to make sure you have everyone you need on the bus. And, that they are fully briefed on their role within your crisis plan.

8. Update the contact list.

This one is a no-brainer and super easy, but take 15 minutes to double check cell phone numbers and contact information for the response team. While you are at it, ensure you have emergency contact information for fire, police, hospitals, poison control, etc. in your local areas.

9. Practice to stay sharp.

One day this will not be a drill. Dust that plan off and use the dang thing, especially if you have a positive scenario lurking on the horizon. Heck, bust this thing out and use it as a team-building exercise.

10. Share it!  

Bring your C-suite into the plan and get a good review from outside legal counsel while you are at it. They love knowing their business is prepped and ready for anything.

Don’t have a scenario plan or you can’t locate the ancient binder developed before Snapchat was a verb? Take the initiative and start one. And because you are such a go-getter, here’s a handy brainstorm checklist if you are starting from square one.

Crisis Comms Webinar Today: Want to learn more about crisis communications planning? Join Cision and CommPRO at 1 p.m. ET today for the webinar Managing Communication Challenges.


Having spent most of her 20-plus year career agency side, Carol Klimas has worked on everything from a Papal visit to angry protesters. Her passion is helping clients prepare for, and successfully navigate, any and all crisis situations. You can find Carol expounding on the latest issues management trends and mar-com agency life at 52 & Madison and on Twitter @CarolKlimas.

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