Communication Strategy is Critical Part of Crisis Planning

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With the pork industry currently facing unprecedented challenges, crisis planning is top-of-mind for many. The situation serves as a stark reminder of why we must plan for things like natural disasters, disease outbreaks, public health emergencies and market disruptions that can impact our ability to manage farms and care for livestock. The National Pork Board has excellent crisis planning tools available to farmers that everyone should be taking advantage of.

When we think of dealing with a crisis, our immediate thoughts are usually operational. How can we keep our farms and businesses operating as normally as possible in a crisis situation? How do we make sure feed, water and other necessary resources are available? How do we manage personnel and vendors? While these questions are absolutely essential to consider, we need to remember to include communications in our crisis planning. Who we communicate with and how in a crisis situation can have a huge impact on how it effects our business and reputation. You need a crisis communications plan that lives on the shelf right next to your operating plans for situations like disasters, disease outbreaks or market disruptions.

Your crisis communications plan should include the following elements:

  • A list of stakeholders and who is responsible for communicating with each one (and in what order). This list will be different for different crisis scenarios, so make sure you plan for everything you can imagine. The list could include employees, neighbors, animal health boards, state/national associations, media or customers as examples of stakeholders.
  • A list of spokespeople along with current contact information. Determining the most appropriate spokesperson also depends on the issue at hand. For example, a veterinarian is probably best to speak publicly about animal welfare or animal health topics.
  • Drafts of key messages and response materials, including press releases/media statements, talking points, social media posts, a website landing page, fact sheets and FAQs. These will need to be customized based on the specifics of the situation, but having drafts available will help you respond much more quickly. In sensitive situations, you should carefully weigh what to share and how – The National Pork Board also has a great resource on this.
  • A plan for incoming contact. Once you have the materials you plan to share ready, consider how you will handle inquiries from media and stakeholders (and messages from activists who we would definitely not consider stakeholders). Make sure anyone who greets visitors, answers phones or manages company social media knows how to respond to questions or concerns.

Once you have a plan, it’s important to revisit it regularly to make sure the content and contact information is up to date. The last thing you want to do in a crisis is try to update a list of phone numbers to make sure they are correct. You should also test out the plan regularly by holding crisis drills. We can’t always anticipate or avoid a crisis, but with a thorough crisis plan (including communications!) we can help minimize the disruption to our business and our reputation. 

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