Crises are inevitable in any business. Be it a global crisis that affects any and all industries like the COVID-19 pandemic or a PR crisis that threatens the reputation of your company, everyone in your organization needs to be prepared. Enter crisis management training programs to help facilitate this preparation.
One of the priority teams you must keep prepared is your marketing team.
After all, your marketing team is responsible for external communications. If a marketing team is well-prepared in the face of a crisis, they will have everything they need to swiftly communicate anything through your platforms and channels and limit fallout.
“Marketing teams are responsible for your brand image, and that includes your image in the face of a crisis,” explains HostingData founder Alex Williams. “No matter the type of crisis, if a brand is involved, customers may have concerns or needs that require addressing. In this day and age, where do customers turn to if they want to see how their favorite brands are responding to anything from a PR crisis down to even economic recession affecting most industries? Chances are, they’ll turn to social media or look for digital touchpoints of your brand.”
In this post, we’ll show you exactly what you may need to consider and prepare for as you create your crisis management training program.
First thing’s first, you’ll want to develop your crisis management playbook. Consider this as your guide for creating a crisis management training that makes sure employees understand what to expect every step of the way.
If you don’t have one already, let’s go through the simple steps you might need to take to create your very first crisis management plan.
Set a goal for your crisis management playbook
We recommend making your goal for your crisis management plan the following: “To facilitate better communication between company employees and all major stakeholders, should there be any event or crisis that threatens to disrupt normal business operations or to affect the reputation of the company.”
This way, you’ll know that everything you include in this playbook is going to align to this clear and specific goal, while being broad enough to cover any scenario that may “threaten to disrupt normal business operations or to affect the reputation of the company.”
Outline a communication plan
Your crisis management plan needs to have some type of process or hierarchy of communication that dictates where and how to communicate details of the crisis.
Depending on the size of your business, your first step may be to notify all C-level executives first, or inform your PR or marketing head who will escalate the issue or handle it themselves.
There may even be instances where your teams don’t need to wait for C-level executives before passing decisions and communicating with the public because they’re more foreseeable than other crises. Examples of these scenarios could be site wide outages or logistic delays.
Simulate crisis management plans for any scenario
Finally, make sure your crisis management playbook is able to go through every possible scenario you can foresee. This way, you can create a workable plan that covers a broad base right from the start. You might find that some scenarios may entail a similar management process and can make for a repeatable process.
Paul Cowan, Chief Marketing Officer of Freshbooks shares, “If we plan ahead in our marketing campaigns and major business activities, we should also plan ahead in crisis management. We see how quickly things can change in business, from a change in economics or even a PR crisis.”
They continue, “Because of this, look back at some of the most major crises you’ve observed both in your own organization and even outside it. Learn from that. Ask yourself: What would you do to handle that crisis if it happened to your company (or if it happens again)? What would you do differently or the same?”
If you’re not sure where to start, it helps to use Cowan’s tips to simulate those possible crises for your own crisis management planning.
If we plan ahead in our marketing campaigns and major business activities, we should also plan ahead in crisis management.
Now that you have your crisis management plan ready, you can really start to think about your marketing team’s training. One of the first things you will need to create your training program is to evaluate what your team might need to effectively manage a crisis should it occur.
Review the skills and knowledge your marketing team might already have in a training needs analysis. Then see what skills and knowledge you want them to have when it comes to crisis management. This step is important so you can determine exactly how to fill in the gap using your training program.
Some other factors you may want to keep in mind during this stage:
Defining your objectives will help you make sure your crisis management training program is effective from the very beginning. Set goals for this training program, and include how you’ll measure each goal accordingly.
You might want to consider different ways to evaluate your marketing team’s understanding and knowledge of the crisis management training you provide. For example, you might decide on adding simple quizzes that will test their understanding of your material, or you might hold mock simulations that will better prepare them in a more practical way.
Of course, your objectives will ultimately be to prepare your marketing team for any crisis that may happen to your organization. You can set guide questions that will both help you and your marketing team understand why they’re being trained for these events.
Have questions like:
You might decide on adding simple quizzes that will test their understanding of your material, or you might hold mock simulations that will better prepare them in a more practical way.
Now that you have most of what you need to create your crisis management training program, it’s time to actually plot out and create the program itself.
This is where you’ll take the time to structure your training program in a way that is easy for your marketing team to consume and digest. Consider which steps precede which, and go from broad concepts to specific scenarios and steps.
For example, if you decide to outline the crisis management process for a PR crisis, you might start with what exactly a PR crisis might look like.
You’ll explain why it’s important to be speedy in your response to this type of crisis and what the risks are if the crisis is not managed well. Then you’ll show your marketing team the process they should expect when this crisis happens.
You might say that all the facts are observed and collected by a specific team who then escalate this to your head of marketing and president. Then your head of marketing and president will brief your C-level executives and meet with them about how to communicate what happened and how your business is handling things.
Finally, these instructions will be passed down to the marketing team who can create communications for all stakeholders, especially online.
Team members might be expected to take on a customer support role by answering questions and concerns while managing multiple social media channels or email inboxes. And you might include very detailed guidelines for the specific PR crisis, such as what questions they can answer on their own and which ones may need reviewing from higher-ups.
Take note that the medium by which you deliver your crisis management program can also facilitate better training. Use a mix of text, audio, or video to get ideas across. Consider creating handouts that serve as a summary for each section, so your marketing team need not go through the training program again and again.
Use a mix of text, audio, or video to get ideas across.
At this point, you can choose your training program approach based on your objectives and needs. Many businesses may decide to provide completely self-directed training programs, but you might find that employees don’t complete their programs nor do they absorb all the information they might need.
Instead, consider taking a Collaborative Learning approach which is proven to help teams learn faster and better because each person plays a role in everyone’s learning.
With Collaborative Learning, your marketing team is able to share information and knowledge, ask questions, and help each other. This provides for a more conducive environment to keep your team not only accountable but even engaged, as they all contribute to the same goal.
You’re able to turn training programs into conversations and dialogue instead of a one-way information dump. And when your marketing team can engage with each other in your training program, they’re able to retain information better and even gain trust that, in any event one of your crisis scenarios plays out, they’ll have each other’s support and know how to work together as a team. You can deep dive into what Collaborative Learning is all about (and why it’s a time-saver for L&D teams) in our dedicated ebook:
When you’ve built the first iteration of your crisis management training program for your marketing team, it’s time to actually get the training to your people. This is because your marketing team should actually take the program themselves for you to properly evaluate its effectiveness.
Testing if your training program was effective or not means going back to your objectives and goals you set earlier. Were you able to hit your goals effectively? Did your marketing team have the exact takeaways and learnings you wanted them to have?
As mentioned earlier, you might consider other ways to gauge their understanding and learning. Sometimes interactive quizzes can show you where in your program may need some clarification or tweaking. Or just getting their feedback on every lesson or module can help you improve your training program even more.
Consider taking the time out to meet with your marketing team to simulate some of the scenarios. Really gauge how much they’ve understood from your training program by interacting with them in person or in live calls. This may even become an opportunity to clarify anything that was confusing, to create better training systems, or to solicit suggestions about how to make your crisis management processes even better.
Over time, your marketing team will grow and evolve. Some employees or team members may leave, others will join in and take their place. When this happens, each team member will likely go through your crisis management training program either for the first time or a second or third—particularly when it’s an annual training you might conduct.
Commit to creating a first workable training program then improving it with your team’s feedback.
A crisis can happen anytime. The best way to manage it is through intense preparation. While you might not be able to prevent every eventuality, you can help be prepared to deal with it. Investing up front in a crisis training program for your marketing team is a wise choice, seeing as they often handle external communications. A Collaborative Learning approach to creating your employee training programs will ensure you capture the institutional knowledge employees will need to respond quickly and efficiently in a crisis.