It’s incredible to me how many companies I’ve worked for that do not have a war room strategy nor even an emergency contact tree for employees. HELLO. Sad to say it, but we are living in a time where every company needs a crisis management plan >> and that begins with the very first step of any crisis communications strategy >> meeting in the war room and contacting internal stakeholders.
So how do you create a war room? Think of your most pertinent members of staff. With traditional companies, you are thinking:
COO: They will need to give input as to how the company will operate during the crisis.
VP of HR: This is an incredibly important person to have in the room. This will ultimately be the face of your crisis response to all of your employees. They also will have great insight as to whether or not you should/can/shouldn’t send out certain messaging to staff. This is the SAME PERSON who should own the crisis emergency contact tree.
General Counsel: Given.
VP of Product: If you sell products, this person should know all product messaging and strategies currently in the market and be able to advise on which ones need to be paused/postponed.
VP of PR/Communications/Marketing: Here’s a tip >> LISTEN to this person in the war room. While everyone else brings their own set of expertise to the table, this person knows how to communicate with your audience and that is the #1 crucial thing to do right as a brand during a crisis.
VP of IT: This person is especially important if the crisis involves any threat of online security.
VP of Digital: Since this position oversees more than half of crisis management, it’s important to include them early on in the conversation.
One person should hold the keys to the war room. This means that they are able to quickly set everyone up on a webcast or get everyone congregated into a physical location >> from the physical set-up to contacting everyone in the war room. I’ve seen this work best when the VP of PR/Comm/Marketing holds these keys. It’s also best to practice getting to the “war room” and making sure the technology you plan to use in a crisis actually works via a series of drills planned throughout the year.
The war room needs to be a place of quick, decisive, intelligent thinking leading to 100 percent accurate results that accumulate into a statement that can be shared internally and publicly. For this to work well, each person in the war room needs to rely MOST on their strengths and why they are in that room. The VP of HR needs to be laser-focused on what is best for employees while the VP of Digital needs to be laser-focused on how the online sites need to run. By the end of a war room session, everyone should be walking away with a very clear directive as to what to tell their teams and what the company message stance and statement are across the board.
Which leads to the contact tree. Some companies use email blasts, others require each VP to reach out to their team, others leave voicemails on everyone’s cells. Find what works best for your company. Just remember that not everyone is on the channel you are used to contacting them on when a crisis breaks, so it’s best to have two ways employees are contacted. Perhaps an email from their team leader and a generic voicemail left on their cell.
Then, it’s time to move on to how to handle internal communications during a crisis.
– Marji J. Sherman