It seems that there is a lot of trouble brewing lately. Sometimes it seems events overtake us without our being able to actually strategically consider our options. We are reactive, rather than proactive. There are many reasons for that, not the least of which the luxury of time. And while I’ve written before on crisis communications, and specifically written a few prescriptions for the FDA itself, I thought it about time to brush up and provide a brief tutorial overview on planning in the face of trouble!
- Develop the Issues Map – Prepare a grid to overview the issues you face and the messages that are likely from your detractors. What are the potential issues that might be raised by opponents and critics? As best you can, anticipate these points. It may help to conduct an audit of past messaging and statements from these detractors. Identify each message, organizing them by subject matter.
- Point/Counterpoint Document – Having anticipated detractor messages, develop counterpoint messages to each of their principle assertions.
- Market Identification – What markets and what vehicles have been utilized in the past by potential critics? Markets would be, for example, The Washington Post. The vehicle would be an op-ed. What is the reach of these markets and do they influence your own key audiences? What markets have you used in the past for message delivery?
- Spokesperson Identification and Training – Now that you know what you want to say and where you want to say it, who is going to do the talking? Find those within your own organization and make sure they intimately know what is what. Who are your natural allies in the situation? Find those individuals and organizations who might carry water for you on the issues. Who have your detractors used in the past to carry their water – and who among your field of allies might best counterbalance them? What outside spokespeople have you used in the past and might they come to your aid again?
- Inventory Existing Communications Resources and Support Materials – What background materials already exist to help you explain your point of view – where are the gaps in your armamentarium? What do you need to develop – Weblogs, reporter relationships, editorial board connections, third party relationships? And what tools do you need – op-ed templates, writers guides, FAQs, Backgrounders, Q&As?
Granted, not everyone has this luxury of time. But it is surprising the degree to which the trauma of an anticipated problem can be minimized by preparing ahead of time. Micro-Tutorial over!