What are the odds your organization will have a full-blown crisis that could hurt your good reputation or even destroy your business? Well, based on the near-daily calls our firm gets for crisis communications services, the chances seem pretty good.

So, are you one of those organizations that spends more time planning the holiday party than preparing for a crisis? Are you of the school of thought that these issues just “blow over” with little notice or impact? Do you think customers, clients, referral sources, donors, investors, funding sources and others won’t care how you respond?

Today, there are more crisis hot spots affecting more organizations of every size and kind. Just pick up the newspaper, tune in or go online: data breaches, sexual harassment, environmental problems, class action lawsuits, labor issues and management malfeasance are just a few. But, the real game changer these days is that bad news lives forever on the internet, even if it doesn’t get much attention in traditional media. Crisis communications—and crisis management—is more important than ever.

So, advanced planning is critical. Without a plan, valuable hours can be lost deciding what to say; even worse, you may release incorrect or incomplete information or disseminate the “wrong” messages. React slowly to a crisis, and you risk getting run over by a firestorm of negative stories in the newspaper, social media, TV and radio.

What will be released to the media? Who will act as spokesperson when the media calls? Should an announcement be made to customers, clients or other key groups, and what about timing? How should other important audiences be communicated with? Should a telephone hotline be established? How will social media, website, letters and advertising be handled and by whom? And, most importantly, what will be done to rebuild after the crisis?

If a crisis is handled well, your organization can become even more respected or, as is often the case, be seen as the “victim” of an unjust or unfortunate incident or accident. Handling a crisis poorly with slow, inadequate or defensive communications can quickly make you the villain or make you appear incompetent. Like most things in life, the difference between success and failure is in the planning.