By: Guest Blogger, Sabrina Kidwai, APR
Over the past few years, we’ve seen several crises take place: Susan G. Komen, Penn State, and more recently with the mayor of Toronto to the players situation with the Miami Dolphins.
Some organizations believe that a crisis won’t ever happen to them, but it’s important to realize that everyone will experience a crisis. For example, it can include: embezzlement; board member misconduct; controversial speaker, program, ad, or product; weather-related cancellation; or a crisis during a meeting.
When a crisis hits, it’s essential for your organization/client to be prepared. Here are some simple steps:
1. Build a Team
- Create a list of people who will be part of your crisis communication team. It should include: your CEO/President, board chair, Communication Director/Manager, and other key people from inside your organization.
- Assign specific roles to your team members such as designating one person to speak to external publics, another person to handle internal communication, and another monitoring social media.
- Train and retrain the spokespersons and emphasize the importance of working with others during a crisis (officials, agencies, other groups involved in the crisis).
2. Create a Plan
- Monitor your environment and identify your organization vulnerabilities.
- Develop a series of scenarios that reflect a crisis your organization may face. Prioritize this list and identify those that would be the most urgent.
- Develop core messages that you want to impart in response to possible scenarios. Draft Q&A responses for possible events. The exact wording may change depending on the crisis, but you should have your core messages in place.
- Anyone working for an organization is likely to become a source. Be sure to caution employees against becoming a spokesperson for your organization and route any calls to the media relations department.
3. Keep it Current
- Once you have developed your plan, practice, practice, practice. Stimulate a crisis internally and go through the entire plan. You may find gaps, which you can correct before a real crisis happens.
- Review the plan annually.
- Make sure the entire crisis management team has copies and can access them immediately.
4. When the Crisis Happens
- Activate the plan immediately. An organization’s reputation often stands or falls based on how it handles a crisis during the first 24 hours.
- Identify your priority publics. These may change with the type of crisis but some will remain constant such as employees, customers, stakeholders, suppliers, larger community, media, regulatory agencies, etc.
- Internal audiences are the most important. First step is to inform employees and your internal publics. Post a message on your organization’s intranet site, hold a staff meeting, and distribute information on regular intervals.
- Be sincere and demonstrate your concern. Communicate to the public that you are doing everything to solve the issue at hand.
- Set clear expectations and timelines for updates to the media. Stick to them, even if you have no update.
5. Evaluate Your Plan (Post-Crisis)
- Take a look at your plan and see what worked and what’s missing and make any adjustments.
- Reflect and discuss as a team about the lessons learned.
Sometimes the crisis that occurs isn’t a big deal, but it’s the response or lack of one that can turn a small crisis into a bigger one. So, it’s important for the organization to manage its brand effectively by having a communication plan in place.
Sabrina Kidwai, APR, has been involved in public relations for 14 years working in associations, nonprofits and high-tech PR agency. She is currently the senior manager of PR for ASAE where she handles both internal and external communications, provides counsel to senior leadership, and develops strategic communication plans for the organization. She is a board member for the National Capital Chapter Public Relations Society of America, and the co-chair for the 2014 International PRSA Conference Committee. She is an alumnus of the IEL Education Policy Fellowship Program in Washington, DC. Sabrina received her Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and her Master’s in Public Administration from the University of South Carolina.