12 Most Untenable Excuses Not to Have a Crisis Communications Plan

12 Most Untenable Excuses Not to Have a Crisis Communications Plan

It’s only spring, but 2012 is already shaping up to be the year of the PR crisis. No matter the sector — corporate, nonprofit, even academic — PR disasters just keep coming.

You can offer many excuses why your organization doesn’t have an updated, effective crisis communications plan. But they’re all flimsy. Here are a dozen of them, debunked.

1. “There’s no time”

Unlike many things requiring the attention of professional communicators, planning for a crisis carries no built-in deadline. You can’t put off preparing the annual report, shaping materials for an upcoming shareholder vote or producing the video to be screened at your fundraising campaign kickoff. But devising the crisis plan? There’s no urgency until the crisis hits. Then, it’s urgent. And, it’s too late.

2. “We don’t have the money for that”

Developing a crisis communications plan takes effort, but it doesn’t have to be expensive — just thorough, clear and ready to go. With diligent searching on the Internet, you can ferret out some great advice and tips from others that costs nothing. Of course, you’ll need to customize a plan to suit the needs and circumstances of your organization. But tapping into the extensive free research, case studies and data available can provide a solid base on which to do that.

3. “We don’t know where to start”

It might feel like an intimidating task, but don’t let that stop you from putting in place the plan you’ll need when (fill in your worst nightmare, here) happens. Anxiety-induced paralysis never got anyone smoothly through a crisis — of any kind, let alone one being retweeted and shared on social media sites, splashed on front pages or replayed in film clips on YouTube.

4. “We’ll deal with a crisis when it happens

By the time you’re panicked, it’s too late to plan. By then, you need to be executing one.

5. “It’s not a priority”

Tell that to Goldman Sachs.

6. “We don’t have any staff available for this”

Break up the work into parts and set firm deadlines. If this project gets spliced into your daily, weekly and other priorities, it can be managed over a period of time. Don’t let capacity be your excuse. It won’t hold up when a crisis hits.

7. “We won’t have a crisis because we’re small”

That doesn’t really matter. The town of Chardon, Ohio, population 5,000, had to deal with unthinkable tragedy recently when a student opened fire in the high school, killing three and wounding others. School administrators, police officials and others were widely praised for how they handled the shootings and the communications about it with parents, the media and the public. They had a plan.

8. “We won’t have a crisis because we have a wonderful mission”

Just ask Susan G. Komen about this one. An amazing mission. And an eye-popping crisis over the way it handled funding for Planned Parenthood.

9. “We’ve never had a crisis before”

Neither had Penn State, until one of monstrous magnitude descended last fall.

10. “We have an impeccable reputation”

So do the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts of America. But both organizations have also struggled with public relations crises in the recent past. The Girl Scouts — in the midst of celebrating its 100th anniversary this year — battled bad press when a troop in Colorado allowed a 7-year old transgender child to join.  The Boy Scouts have come under fire from critics over a decision not to allow gay men or lesbians in leadership roles.

11. “We just don’t want to do it”

No business, nonprofit or organization wants to spend time, energy and other resources developing a crisis communications plan. Don’t give into that dread. Why? See #12

12. “It won’t make a difference”

Communicating openly and proactively in a crisis really matters. Johnson & Johnson knows all about that. Tylenol was the leading painkiller in the United States in 1982 when seven people in Chicago were fatally poisoned with cyanide after taking extra-strength capsules that had been tampered with. Three decades later, textbooks on how to handle corporate crises still cite the company’s swift action in clearing the products from the shelves and communicating transparently with the public before re-introducing the medicine with tamper-resistant packages and tamper-evident seals.

Having a crisis communications is like having a fire alarm and an emergency exit plan in case of flames. It doesn’t mean the house won’t burn. But it can mean the difference between being trapped inside amidst rising smoke or climbing down the fire escape, coughing and shaken up, but alive.

Featured image courtesy of stargardener via Creative Commons.

Becky Gaylord


Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.

468 ad

Hmm, so many of us small business owners are "busted" by you nailing the excuses above, Becky. I'm definitely sharing this one a few times ;)

Amy Peveto
Amy Peveto

I think a lot of businesses never get to the crisis planning point because they feel like they're drowning in all the other "stuff" they should be doing (social media, blogging, building their brand, and on and on). It can be hard to plan for a possible future event when they're just trying to keep their heads above water today.


This can't be an excuse, however. In this increasingly social and connected world, having a crisis plan in place is, well, critical.


I remember working for the Residence Halls at my college and going through crisis training. My supervisor at that time actually left her position to pursue a career in Crisis planning. Communication is crucial , and to reiterate point #1, you need a plan now. Not just for preparedness, but you are going to have much less time to act than you think when something happens.


 @Amy Peveto Amy, I agree with you. For many, they think it's not important until the crisis hits. By then, their hunkered down and panicked. Planning for it is not easy, but yes essential! 


 @susansilver That's right, Susan. And the rash of examples in recent months seemed like a good opportunity to remind leaders, communicators and others of how important it is to be prepared (and not to pretend it can't happen).