How To Build Risk Management Into Your Strategic Communications Plan

Sarah Hood

Core values inform strategic communications for managing risk In situations from brand management to disaster planning, strategic communications are a critical component of risk management, …

Core values inform strategic communications for managing risk

Risk Management and CommunicationIn situations from brand management to disaster planning, strategic communications are a critical component of risk management, and vice versa.

The international business community has watched with shock as auto manufacturer Volkswagen has been caught in a scandal; the costs of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions testing will be in the billions of dollars: all for what could be called a grave error in public relations.

Compare this to a risk management lesson we can all learn from: the handling by Canadian company Maple Leaf Foods of the 2008 listeria contamination of its meat products that caused 23 deaths. Because the company acted quickly and took responsibility for the tragedy, it emerged from the crisis with dignity.

Speaking to students at Western University’s Ivey Business School in 2014, Dr. Randy Huffman, Maple Leaf’s Senior Vice President Operations and Chief Food Safety Officer said that the company’s core values had served as a “roadmap” for communications planning during the crisis. “Don’t underestimate the power of having well-entrenched values and an up-to-date code of behaviour,” he said.

Flowing out of corporate values, strategic communications planning for risk management focuses on two fundamental questions: “What can go wrong?” and “How can we prevent harm from occurring?”

To answer the first question, it’s necessary to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Whether you’re creating the communications strategy for a municipal disaster planning exercise or simply getting ready to handle a potentially negative media interview, the basics of risk management communication are the same.

What are the essential steps? As with any communications plan, first, develop a set of key messages and identify the target audience to be reached. Knowing the target audience(s) will suggest the best means of communication to get the key messages across. Meanwhile, the organization needs a clearly articulated policy that sets out the roles of key spokespeople. Everyone in the company should know how and where to direct an inquiry from the media or the general public.

In its “ABCs of Strategic Communications”, the Harvard Family Research Project points out that a crisis control plan “should be thought of as a fire drill.” So, before a crisis occurs, the team responsible must brainstorm the scenarios that could go wrong, from a rainout at a charity golf tournament to an industrial accident that causes a fatality. This allows time to think clearly about appropriate responses, the right language to use, and the most effective channels of communication.

It’s useful to let the key spokespeople practice speaking and giving interviews about these different scenarios, so they will be prepared for the worst, and less liable to say something they (and the rest of the organization) will regret later.

No one can foresee every eventuality, but when organizations plan their communications strategy with risk management in mind—and vice versa—they have a powerful tool for crisis control… especially if both are informed by a strong corporate vision.


Have you ever been involved in crisis communications? What’s your best story about risk management and strategic communications planning? Thanks for reading don’t forget to share/tweet/like our blog just underneath this paragraph. And don’t forget, we’re always here to help with your business efficiency needs.

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Sarah B. Hood is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She writes well researched, fresh and engaging articles on news and lifestyle topics like food, culture, design, urban life, environment and travel.

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