Now more than ever is the time to take control of your agency's narrative and ensure that you are strategic when it comes to making the news.
What exactly is a narrative?
The narrative is the singular message that encompasses what an organization stands for, such as its values and service principles.
Rather than focusing on tasks and services, the narrative helps to shape opinion of service users. Essentially, it is story-telling that seeks to have a positive outcome, bringing together data and creative communication together.
By working with a combination of media relations (using relationships as an opportunity to strengthen your narrative) and content across all channels, you can create an opportunity to tell the story of your organization in addition to reporting on the daily business of what you do and how you do it. Your narrative is your 'why?'.
The overarching benefit of working on your narrative is that when it comes to a crisis or emergency, you have people who already understand and want to support you due to this common thread that is woven throughout your communication efforts. This is not only applicable to citizens but also key stakeholders both internally and externally.
Ask internally - why do we do what we do?
Clearly identify your why
There is the 'doing' part of any organization that should usually be quite clear in the mind of the citizen. The fire department prevents and puts out fire, the hospital makes you better, the council collects your trash. However, it's important to be clear on why you do what you do. People like to understand motivation and it usually comes down to shared values. Ask internally - why do we do what we do? The answer usually goes along the lines of 'because we believe that...' This is your why. Now you can shape your narrative and communication strategy around this.
Be assertive when it comes to correcting misinformation
When overwhelmed, it's easy and understandable that correcting small stories or the odd post here and there can fall to the bottom of the list. However, from small acorns of misinformation, big crises do grow. When it comes to the media, a rapid response should always be at the forefront of your mind, even if it does seem scary.
If it's on social, again, a swift response to correct the information should be accompanied by a link to the correct source of information (your website or primary social channel). Not having control of information will ultimately shape your narrative negatively.
Don't just be the news, create the news
Be your own news agency
It's easier than you think to be your own news agency. Publishing content will put you ahead. Offering a press kit upfront means fewer requests from the media and that means it saves you time. You may feel like your role is primarily about being reactive and dealing with issues in the moment, but the more you anticipate need, the more you can control your narrative.
Be the first to publish
A dynamic incident or emergency will usually catch you off guard - particularly if someone at the scene has already posted on social, but this doesn't mean you can't be the first to get out there with the factual information. If it is in your power to do so, try to publish a short holding statement before news media is able to get anything online. It is indeed a race against so many challenging factors, but a couple of paragraphs shows you are aware, in control and ready to lead on the situation.
When it comes to the media, a rapid response should always be at the forefront of your mind,
Be clear and concise on updates
A vacuum must always be filled, so if during a crisis or an emergency you do not give clear, concise and regular updates, the gap will be filled with misinformation, rumour and conjecture. Imaginations run riot when there is no fact to reason with. Even if you are updating to say you have no update - yet - be sure to keep letting people know that you are going to be the first to have the correct information.
Be open to working with the media
Working on open and mutually beneficial relationships with the media will help support your efforts on developing and strengthening your narrative. Offering more opportunities to spend time in your organization looking at your why in addition to proactively suggesting OpEds will help shape the fuller picture of your communication strategy and the core aims of this strategy. It is tempting to be guarded with media, but you can still develop strong and beneficial relationships with media without compromising on operational necessity.