How to Create a Farm Operation Crisis Communication Plan 

Katie Ward, Farm Credit Marketing Specialist

Every agricultural operation is vulnerable to crises, no matter how equipped you are. One of the biggest missteps a business can make during a crisis, is a lack of communication with their internal and external audiences. Without a proper communication plan, you risk diminishing internal morale and losing trust with your stakeholders. Being proactive and transparent in your communication is key to protecting your business’ people, assets and brand.

Crisis communication plans are designed to provide guidance and easy-to-follow steps to prepare for, manage and recover from a crisis. Effective crisis communication relies heavily on the preparedness of the internal team of your business. Creating a crisis communication plan can seem daunting, but our guide below can help alleviate some of that stress and allow your business to be proactive during a crisis, rather than reactive.

Crisis Communications Team

A business’ crisis communications team should be made up of the key decision makers who know the ins and outs of the operation. The composition of the team may vary depending on the size of the business, but keep these three roles in mind: main decision makers, communications, and subject matter expertise. If the crisis has to do with a piece of equipment, a staff member who operates that machine should be on the team. You may also consider relying on your network and existing industry relationships if the crisis is not limited to your business alone.

Spokespeople

Plan out who from your operation should speak or write on the following communication channels:

  • Social Media: _____________________________
  • Press Releases: ____________________________
  • Website Updates: __________________________
  • Mobile App Updates: ________________________
  • Phone Messages: ___________________________
  • Signs: ____________________________________
  • Emails: ___________________________________
  • Letters: ___________________________________
  • Meetings: _________________________________
  • Newsletters: _______________________________
  • Media Interviews: ___________________________

You will find that it is often one or two people who are deemed the spokespeople during a crisis because it is easier to keep consistent messaging. However, if your business is open during the crisis and you have staff speaking with external audiences, they will need to know what to say about the crisis and how to respond to questions. In this case, putting together talking points for them is crucial to ensuring your company is communicating consistently.

Any employee who is not authorized as a spokesperson should not make statements, comments or declarations internally or externally to vendors, media, on social media, etc. All employees should direct inquiries to the designated, and trained, spokespeople.

Verify the Crisis Situation

When a crisis occurs, it is crucial for the communications team to discuss the following:

  • The severity of the crisis and how it currently impacts the business
  • What needs to happen internally to adjust to the crisis
  • What needs to be communicated internally and externally to address concerns
  • What could happen if the crisis continues/grows into something more severe

Develop Messages

When thinking about what messaging needs to be developed, the crisis communications team should first consider the key audiences of each message. (The below examples may or may not fit your business, and you may need to add others.)

  • Internal
    • Staff
    • Board Members
    • Partners
  • External
    • Key stakeholders
    • Community members
    • Customers
    • The media
    • Law enforcement
    • Public officials
    • Residents

A crucial part in messaging during a crisis is to have empathy and to show transparency for all audience members. Stay in tune with your key audiences and what they need to know from your business. What questions might they have that you CAN answer?

Before you send a mass communication, think about what you’re trying to accomplish and make sure the messaging clearly conveys that. For example, if your business has to close its doors for a period of time, let your audience know how they can be in touch with you and what they can expect when you are back to business as usual. Remember: there is a fine line between keeping the messaging positive, and not turning a blind eye to the fact that there is a crisis impacting your business and the community.

Communication Channels

Be sure to refer back to your spokespeople before communicating on any channel. Most messages can be tailored to fit all of the below communication channels:

  • Social Media
  • Press Releases
  • Website Updates (especially on the home page if a major change takes place)
  • Mobile App Updates
  • Phone Messages
  • Signs
  • Emails
  • Letters
  • Newsletters
  • Media Interviews

Your business will most likely not need to communicate on all of the channels above, but it is something to consider. Where do you normally communicate with all of your audiences? Make sure to hit those channels first and the most often. Although it may be difficult, try to respond to questions or comments within 24 hours. You want your audience to hear things about your business from you first.

Check on any pre-scheduled or planned communications as well to make sure that the messaging is not ill-timed or tone deaf to the crisis. If you’ve planned anything that is no longer relevant, determine when will be the appropriate time to revisit.

Notification and Assignments

Once a plan and messages have been developed, one or two members of your crisis communications team should be reaching out to all internal members of the business. The team should make the following information clear: the status of the crisis, what actions have been taken and what actions will be taken, equip each person with talking points, but make it clear that any official media inquiries should be directed to a spokesperson, and make any necessary assignments. The assignments to staff should generally cover what specific people or departments need to do and/or say during the crisis – it will take a team to overcome any crises, so make sure everyone knows the goal and how they can help do their part.

Monitor and Provide Feedback

Once the approved messages have been released and everyone internally and externally has been communicated with, the crisis communications team should continue to monitor the situation and develop more messaging and strategies as the crisis unfolds. It’s best for the team to check in with each other daily as the crisis is going on, and at least every other day as the crisis begins to subside. Analyze common themes and trends your audience members are talking or asking about most. Have you communicated about that yet?

Post-Crisis Response Review

Once the crisis is over and you’re back to business as usual, the crisis communications team should meet to asses all communications. Discuss what worked and what didn’t work, survey all employees and stakeholders to gauge if perception in the brand has changed, and save all feedback to include in your plan to be better prepared for the next crisis.

Navigating a crisis is never easy, but having a communications plan prepared can help ease the initial stress. Farm Credit was created to support our nation’s farmers in both good times and bad. If your agribusiness or operation is struggling, please reach out to your loan officer or give us a call at 888.339.3334. We want to help you navigate these challenges and come out of the situation stronger than before.