Affect Runs a Crisis Simulation (And Why Your Organization Should Too)

by Affect Team on November 26, 2012

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The phone rings.

It’s a journalist on deadline. She’s heard from a competitor that your company suffered a major data breach – and she’s writing about it within the next hour.

What do you do next?

Well, if you work at Affect, the next steps are simple. That’s because last week our entire team ran what is an often missed but critical component of any crisis communications plan – a crisis simulation.

Using an example the technology industry has seen many times this year, we split the agency into three new account teams servicing a fake client, “NoDataBreach.com.” Then, we let the crisis play out.

First, our President, Sandra, posed as a technology journalist inquiring about a major data breach. Teams were asked to brief their new “client”, who in turn requested a number of documents we traditionally prepare for clients in times of crisis – including key messages, a media statement, internal and external recommendations, social media strategy and an FAQ.

Teams had to consider a number of factors, including:

  • Is this a real crisis?
  • Should we do an interview on our side of the story?
  • What’s the reputation damage to our client? How can we reinforce their position and protect their brand?
  • What materials should we prepare for external use, as well as for employee and customer use?
  • What’s our social media strategy?

Finally, each account team presented their overall strategy (and there were prizes!)

If your organization has already done the legwork of preparing a crisis communications plan (from pre-packaged statements to a company workflow) but hasn’t yet done a simulation, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Identify the top potential crises your organization may face in the next year. Try to simulate one per quarter.
  • Kick off the crisis by starting with the first way your organization may hear about it. Would it come through a journalist? What about through a customer on social media? Or a competitor?
  • Challenge your team to respond quickly to the crisis. Recently I sat in on a presentation by JetBlue, who said their internal policy is to get materials out in no less than 30 minutes during a potential crisis.
  • Try to make your scenario as realistic as possible, involving everyone on the team (even at the C-level) who may play a role during a crisis.
  • End the session with a “lessons learned”, and assign a team member to integrate these into your existing crisis communications plan.

Also, crises always hit at the most inconvenient time. While we scheduled our training exercise so that our whole team could participate, make sure your simulation also takes into account weekend, overnight and holiday situations. Any other tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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