How to build your crisis communications team
March 23, 2018 • 5 minute read
So much of an organization’s success is reliant on its good reputation and the hard-won trust of its customers and constituents. It could be argued that reputation is the single most-valuable asset in an organization’s brand arsenal, and one that must be protected at all costs.
As a leading crisis communications firm, Infinite Global has helped many organizations select, assemble and prepare their crisis teams. Below we outline the roles and responsibilities of each member in a typical crisis communications team.
In any given company, entire departments are devoted to the management of critical assets, such as intellectual property or human resources. Each is staffed with professionals who train and work side by side every day, performing set tasks and following prescribed procedures. Yet when it comes to the management of events that endanger a company’s reputation, rarely is there a department — in the conventional sense — that fits this description.
This is due to several reasons, including the fact that crisis scenarios demand an interdisciplinary approach, with input from experts residing throughout the company and often outside it as well. And, thankfully, large-scale crisis events are infrequent occurrences for most companies. When such events do occur, however, they can be devastating for an organization’s reputation, and the ability to contain the damage directly correlates with response time. Designating a team and testing that team well before a crisis hits are critical steps toward reducing that time — and will put your company at a significant advantage if and when something bad happens.
We recommend tapping into the expertise of existing departments and professionals, assembling an experienced crisis communications team (CCT), clearly articulating each staff member’s role, and testing the team’s functionality well in advance of a crisis. Below, we’ve laid out the ideal structure for your internal CCT, which will be supported by outside vendors such as a PR crisis management firm, insurance carrier and forensics investigators.
Director of Crisis Communications
The director of crisis communications (DCC) oversees the execution of the crisis response plan (such as the crisis communications playbook) and serves as the communications point person for each team member, ensuring all efforts align with communications strategy and protocols.
Staff member: Chief marketing officer or senior communications director with an understanding of the company voice and the authority to approve communications on behalf of the company.
Legal Team Lead
The legal team lead reviews and provides legal sign-off on all communications and updates the DCC on legal proceedings and potential news triggers. The legal team lead also shares relevant legal documents with the DCC before filing, as appropriate, to inform communications.
Staff member: In-house counsel with involvement in the incident or past experience with the type of incident, or outside counsel who has been retained specifically for the matter.
The media team is responsible for developing content, monitoring media and social media, and providing summaries and sentiment evaluations to the rest of the team.
Staff member(s): Marketing or PR specialist with an understanding of the company voice and access to social media credentials and media monitoring tools.
Depending on the makeup of the communications department, the following roles may be held by one or more individuals:
The content development lead provides the DCC with holding statements, liaises with subject matter experts to accurately update detailed statements, and coordinates the approval process with the legal team lead.
The media monitor monitors for media mentions and article comments, analyzes sentiment and identifies potential adversaries, updates media lists, provides hourly or daily coverage updates, coordinates pitching and schedules interviews.
The social media and communications lead posts approved statements to social media channels, monitors for comments and sentiment, and reports engagement to the DCC. This lead also has access to the back end of the organization’s intranet and website for posting of approved communications.
Subject Matter Experts (SME)
Necessary SMEs are determined based on the nature of the incident. The SME is not necessarily a spokesperson or public-facing member of the CCT but is enlisted to provide expertise and advise of nuances related to his or her specific department, depending on the incident.
Staff member(s): A senior member of the relevant team (IT, human resources, operations, finance or risk, among others), or a member with direct knowledge of the team’s role in the incident.
The corporate spokesperson publicly represents the organization in companywide, sensitive or high-profile incidents.
Staff member: CEO, president or other executive-level professional in a position to authoritatively speak on behalf of the organization as a whole.
The specialized spokesperson publicly represents the company on issue-specific or regionally focused incidents.
Staff member: Senior-level executive from a department that has a stake in the incident, likely aligning with the SME(s).
Once your team is aligned, along with backup in case a team member is out or has a conflict, develop a list of contact information so everybody can be easily located once a crisis hits.
Forming the team is a significant step toward preparing for a crisis, but a team trained on and equipped with a plan will have an added layer of confidence and efficiency when the time comes. In our recent post “Four Communications Steps to Take Before a Crisis Hits,” we walk you through the next three steps in creating a comprehensive communications plan for crisis response.
During the month of March, the Infinite Global PR Crisis Team will be writing and speaking on crisis communications–related issues, from IT and breach response to harassment and workplace issues. If you’re interested in learning more about our crisis communications preparation and response services, we encourage you to sign up for our quarterly newsletter below.
Kelsey Eidbo is a Senior Client Supervisor based in Infinite Global’s San Francisco office. As one of Infinite Global’s crisis communications professionals, Kelsey helps firms create proactive crisis communications plans to mitigate reputational risk and advises on communications strategies in response to crisis situations.