Stephanie Balaouras and I published a report last week on the current state of crisis communications, and one thing is clear: most companies are not ready to invoke their crisis communications plan.

We analyzed data from our recent 2012 Forrester/Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) joint online study, which surveyed 115 business continuity decision-makers about their organizations’ crisis communications strategies. The results were disconcerting. Despite roughly half of organizations having invoked their business continuity plan in the past five years, only 15% said their crisis communication efforts were very effective.

Recent events such as Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook school shooting illustrate the damaging, and often tragic, impact crises can have on organizations and the broader community. In fact, Hurricane Sandy was the second costliest in US history. Yet, most organizations are not prepared to manage an effective response to such a crisis. We found that crisis communication programs routinely underperform because:

  1. There isn’t enough advanced preparation. Most organizations test their crisis communication plans too infrequently, with many testing only once a year, or even less frequently than that. Without a well-formed strategy that is practiced on a regular basis, you increase the chances for error as your team tries to operate under very stressful conditions. Planning sounds simple, but there are many components of the strategy that you need to address: establishing roles and responsibilities, embedding training and awareness, drafting crisis-specific message templates, implementing new technology capabilities, optimizing plans based on test results; the list goes on.
  2. Companies struggle to keep track of employees during, and prior to, the crisis. Ensuring employees remain safe and are accounted for is of the utmost importance for any company, but what’s the point if the people you want to reach don’t receive your message? Companies often struggle to keep employee information updated; employees move frequently and don’t tell the company, they change phone numbers, even their names. When the crisis actually hits, normal communications channels may go down, making tracking and communicating with employees incredibly challenging.
  3. Too few plans leverage emerging mobile and social technologies. Our study found that only 26% of organizations use or plan to use social media in the next year as part of their crisis communication plans. Its value in a crisis, however, is clear: It can reach mass audiences with little necessary investment, it remains operational even in severe crises, it can connect affected employees to helpful organizations, and can even help keep track of and locate missing employees. Other emerging technologies, such as mobile apps, geolocation and crisis mapping services, and new physical integration with “smart” buildings, will also make your program more effective in the near future.

What it means: Resilience is no longer an option – it’s a necessity.

Shifting market and business expectations demand that even in times of severe crisis, organizations remain on and responsive throughout the event. Crises are not rare instances any more, and resiliency planners, as well as business leaders, need to invest in careful planning, prepare for a full-range of crises well before the event actually takes place, and test their plans frequently.

We go into much further detail in the report with more data insights from our 2012 DRJ/Forrester survey, and offer best practices and advice for how you can enhance the resiliency of your organization through a more effective crisis communications strategy. As always, we’re very interested to hear what you think.


@nickhayes10, @sbalaouras

*This blog post included contributions from our colleague Jessica McKee