COVID-19 PR Series: Creating a watertight issues preparedness plan

by | Apr 22, 2020 | Tips

If you’re reading this, you may be asking yourself: “Does my business depend on us ensuring we have an issues preparedness plan in place?”

The question we always ask our clients if they are baulking at developing an issues preparedness plan is this: “If A Current Affair or Today Tonight knocked on your door, would you be prepared?” The answer, more often than not, is no. COVID-19 has shown us all that the unexpected can happen, and so it’s a good time to take heed and get your proverbial issues preparedness ducks in a row.

The business of managing, and hopefully containing, a crisis through traditional means has changed beyond recognition in recent years. Now, with the almost universal use of social media, it is no longer the journalist who breaks the story; it’s members of your team or the public who are first on the scene. Smartphones enable instant upload of pictures that will be shared and picked up widely before the PR team has even lifted the phone to get the debrief on the incident.

People now have an insatiable appetite for instant answers – the lack of a response within minutes is now publicly humiliated with a swift #fail, which might escalate your crisis even further. The tragic Dreamworld incident a few years ago is a great case in point and will go down as one of the most poorly handled crisis management situations of all time.

So, what do you need to do to shore up your defences should the unimaginable happen? Here are our 5 top tips based on decades of global issues preparedness experience. Remember, this is NOT a ‘set and forget’ exercise; success relies on regular review and assessment of your business.

Tip 1
Create an Issues Scenario Grid: Get your team together representing different areas of your business and list out all the issues that could happen – everything from a serious onsite accident to food continuation, to a customer complaint that spirals out of control online. Once you’ve done this, plot against two axes: most likely and most visible. The possible issues that land in the top right quadrant of your grid (so most visible and most likely) are the ones you need to be prepared for. Make sure you review this grid every quarter as a minimum as some potential issues may drop in and others may become less of a likelihood. LBPR Template: Issues Scenario Grid

Tip 2
Create statements + Q&A documents for the priority issues: think about what you need to say and how that may vary with different audiences. For example, if you need to close your business for a period of time due to a staff issue, the way you communicate that to other staff versus the outside world is very different. Keep it short, accurate and never, ever lie. If you don’t have all the facts it’s OK to provide what you can and offer to come back with further details as they come to hand. LBPR Template: 77 Crisis Questions

Tip 3
Create an Issues Management Team and Notification Process: who are the people inside your business (and perhaps outside, like an external advisor if you are a sole trader) that need to be part of any discussions should an issue occur? Keep it to key decision-makers; big groups are not effective and it’s true, too many cooks can not only spoil the broth, but totally destroy it. Ensure everyone knows who is doing what – for example, the CEO liaises with external stakeholders, the Marketing Manager takes care of monitoring social and traditional media. Create a document with key contact details like mobile numbers. Create a flow diagram clearly showing who will be contacted and when. As speed is often of the essence, you can also allocate possible timings e.g. CEO/business owner to be notified of issue within 10 minutes of it being identified.

Tip 4
Evaluate post-issue: there is much to be learned after an issue has run its course and taking some time to reflect and review on what happened can help ensure the next time (if there IS one!) is handled more efficiently and effectively. Honesty is always the best policy – who performed well under pressure and who didn’t? Where did the process work and where did it fall down? Did the messages you shared internally and externally resonate or cause more concern?

Tip 5
Consider media training: it’s weird but true; some of the most confident people can crumble when it comes to being the face of a business during a time of an issue or crisis. If it means you need to speak to journalists, and be in front of a camera, it can cause problems if you don’t know how to stand, where to look, what to wear…and most importantly, if you can’t communicate your agreed messages with the right tone and emotion. Practice does make perfect, so take the time to invest in training so you know the basics and can shine when you need to.

What to do if a possible issue turns into an actual issue

This is where you’ll be very thankful you decided to invest your time in preparing. This is no time for your head to enter the sand until it’s all over. Breathe. Stay calm. Go back to your statements, review their content and tweak as necessary. Activate your issues management team and the notification process. Be methodical and measured about what you do and when. Avoid panic and assess whether it’s best to react or you need to be proactive with your communications based on the intensity of the situation. Never lie, and only share information you know to be accurate and correct. If you need professional help, seek it. LBPR Template: Issues Level Assessment Criteria

Get in touch

If this has whetted your appetite and you’d like to find out more about how you can harness the power of PR for your business, get in touch at

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LBPR Issues Scenario Grid template

LBPR 77 Crisis Questions Factsheet

LBPR Issues Level Assessment Criteria Template

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