It’s never easy when a crisis comes your way, but there are some things you can do in advance to make things a little smoother for you and your colleagues. Although it can be a complicated and challenging process to get a watertight crisis comms plan in place, we have drawn up a shortlist of things to consider before the worst happens.
Small agencies and solo or part-time PIOs rarely have the resources at their disposal to fall back on a full department of comms experts, but even if you’re new to comms, following this process and getting a framework in place will help you understand where you really need support and where you may have more resources than you realize.
Appoint Your Crisis Comms Team
Enable others to join your team when you need them by seeking out hidden skills and career aspirations.
Every role within your organization will have some element of communication associated with it, particularly when it comes to a crisis or emergency. Take a step back and look at who in your organization will need to be involved in the comms process and identify any skills they have that could be crucial to your response.
There may be people that you work with who really want to get involved. This is their opportunity to further their career and you could well find someone who will bring a huge amount to your role and the overall communication strategy of your organization.
Even those who don’t yet have any experience in crisis comms will have transferable skills. Identify them and any training they might need to support you.
Anticipate what’s going to happen
The minute you say “that wouldn’t happen here”, it probably means that it will. You may think you are in a sleepy town where nothing really happens, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the worst. You’ll really benefit from taking the time up front to consider all the possibilities.
Get your crisis comms team together and let your imagination run wild. Think about all the things that could happen and then look at what you need to do to be prepared.
Look at other recurring emergencies in the news and see what happened, how it unfolded and what the response was. Would you have done anything differently? What did you learn from just watching how things were reported in the media and eventually resolved.
Identify your audiences and stakeholders
Once you have the forethought about what might happen you need to ensure you have a clear understanding of your audiences and stakeholders. Each will require a different approach when it comes to communication and it can save you a lot of time and resources to have a living document of who they are.
Find your subject experts and give them media training
There will always be a subject expert where you are. It’s your job to tell stories on their behalf but the media and the public always want to hear from the real people and not necessarily the ‘face’ of the organization.
When you identify key subject experts you can train them in handling media interviews and being more comfortable with talking on camera. Camera doesn’t always mean news media - this could be filming short form content for your YouTube channel or having them speak on podcasts. They key is to be sure that they want to be a subject matter expert and that in a crisis situation they would be prepared to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to communication.
It’s quite often that subject experts aren’t the best communicators and that great communicators aren’t always the best subject experts. See how you can help each other out.
Be the first to know with effective notification systems
Do you have a chain of notification when it comes to finding out what’s going on? Sometimes you could be the first port of call, casually monitoring social media and then you’re aware of a great emergency that’s happening right then and there.
Sometimes, however, it takes a while for things to trickle down to you and it can often happen by accident rather than design. Now’s the time to look at how and when you are called upon. It’s important to liaise with your counterparts in other agencies and departments to establish a protocol.
Have monitoring set up before it happens
It’s hard to go back and get information after the event. If you have ‘always on’ media monitoring set up then you’re more likely to see a crisis coming.
Intelligence gathering is an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response.
Knowing what’s being said about you on social media, in traditional media, by those that work in the organization and other stakeholders often allows you to catch any off-message chatter that could become way more damaging down the line.
It’s also important to consider that people like call-takers and those in a public facing position will be a good barometer of public opinion. Make sure you establish protocols to get vital intelligence from them about what people are saying about you.
Practice, practice, practice
Any kind of practice you can get writing media releases, running through tabletop exercises or speaking to camera will help you to feel more confident when the time comes.
With your team, try mock press conferences or see if you can sit in with partner agencies to see how they have done it in the past. Ensure you are always trying to better yourself and expand upon your comms skills.
Always look for learning opportunities
Constant and cyclical learning processes must always be put in place, no matter how small the crisis or emergency was. The key to post-crisis assessment is not just the learning points but ensuring that change occurs as a result of learning and that the learning points are put into put into place.
Assessing what went wrong isn’t about criticism, it’s about acknowledging what went wrong so that it can be improved upon the next time.