As published in O’Dwyer’s January 2024 issue.

In today's fast-paced, hyperconnected world, brands face a constant threat of crises that can harm their reputation and bottom line. From accidents to criminal acts, geopolitical uncertainty, cyberattacks, AI-driven phishing, misinformation, insider threats, activist investors, and even the impact of climate change, it is more important than ever that organizations have a clear response framework in place… before things hit the proverbial fan.

As senior crisis communications professionals, it is our responsibility to guide brands through these turbulent times and ensure their resilience in the face of adversity. To achieve this, we must adopt a strategic approach that not only takes into account the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, but also evaluates and ranks potential and actual crises on a range of factors such as probability, immediacy, priority, and severity. In conjunction with establishing such a robust threat matrix, savvy communicators can also apply the RACI model as a game-changer in crisis communications planning and management.

The RACI Model in Crisis Communications:

The RACI model, which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, is a framework commonly used in project management to clarify roles and responsibilities. When adapted to crisis communications planning, it becomes a powerful tool to ensure everyone involved understands their part in effectively managing and mitigating crises.

  1. Responsible (R):
    • In crisis communications planning, identifying who is responsible for each aspect of the plan is crucial. This includes drafting messages, monitoring social media, coordinating with legal teams, and more.
    • The Responsible individuals are the boots on the ground, actively executing the tasks required during a crisis. They need to be well-trained and ready to act swiftly.
  2. Accountable (A):
    • Accountability is the cornerstone of crisis management. This role typically falls to the senior leadership or crisis management team.
    • Accountable individuals ensure that the crisis communications plan is not only developed but also regularly updated and tested. They oversee the entire process and make critical decisions.
  3. Consulted (C):
    • Crisis communications planning should be a collaborative effort. The Consulted individuals are those who provide expertise and insights into specific areas of the plan.
    • This group may include legal advisors, subject matter experts, and external consultants. Their input helps refine the plan and ensures legal and ethical compliance.
  4. Informed (I):
    • Communication during a crisis is not limited to external stakeholders. Internal communication is equally vital. The Informed individuals are those who need to be kept in the loop.
    • This group includes employees, board members, and other stakeholders who should be aware of the situation and the company's response.

Overlaying Crisis Factors in the Response Matrix:

While the RACI model establishes clarity in roles and responsibilities, it is also important to overlay a system for evaluating and rating crisis factors in a formalized manner. Such factors can include:

  1. Probability:
    • Assessing the likelihood of a crisis occurring is the first step in prioritizing resources and response efforts. Low-probability events may warrant a different approach than high-probability ones.
  2. Immediacy:
    • Some crises demand an immediate response, while others allow for more time to gather information and plan a strategic approach. Understanding the immediacy of a crisis helps in allocating resources effectively.
  3. Priority:
    • Not all crises are equal. Prioritizing crises based on their potential impact on the brand's reputation and business operations is essential.
    • Crisis severity, public safety concerns, legal implications, and financial implications should all be considered when determining priority.
  4. Severity:
    • The severity of a crisis can vary widely. It is crucial to evaluate the potential consequences and impact (short and long-term) on stakeholders of various crisis events and issues, as this will influence the level of response required.

Integrating these crisis factors in a defined response matrix will help communication professionals, and the entire crisis response team, make informed decisions about resource allocation, messaging, and the overall crisis response strategy.

Creating an Actionable Crisis Communications Plan:

With the RACI model in place, as well as a predefined response matrix, one has a solid foundation for creating a well-informed and comprehensive crisis communications plan. At G&S, we deploy these elements as the strategic core of our response protocols. Here’s how our seven-step process works.

  1. Identification and Risk Assessment:
    • Begin by identifying potential crises that the brand may face. Conduct a thorough risk assessment that considers much more than the “most likely” scenarios.
  2. Stakeholder Mapping:
    • Determine who the key stakeholders are in various crisis scenarios. This includes internal and external parties such as employees, customers, regulators, and the media.
  3. RACI Assignment:
    • Assign RACI roles for each aspect of the crisis communications plan based on the identified stakeholders and their respective responsibilities.
  4. Message Development:
    • Craft clear, concise, and empathetic messages that address the needs and concerns of stakeholders. Messages should be adapted to the specific crisis scenario.
  5. Response Matrix Creation:
    • Develop a response matrix that factors in probability, immediacy, priority, and severity. This matrix will guide decision-making during a crisis.
  6. Testing and Training:
    • Regularly test the crisis communications plan through simulations and drills. Ensure that the responsible individuals are well-prepared to execute their roles.
  7. Continuous Evaluation and Improvement:
    • Crisis communications planning is an ongoing process. Regularly evaluate and update the plan based on changing circumstances, emerging risks, and lessons learned from past crises.

In the high-stakes world of crisis communications, success lies in meticulous planning, clear role definition, and a systematic approach to managing crises. By applying the RACI model and overlaying crisis factors such as probability, immediacy, priority, and severity into the response matrix, senior crisis communications professionals can navigate even the most challenging situations with confidence. Remember, the key to resilience is not just how you react to a crisis, but how well you prepare for it in advance.

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