Crisis media management: Five crisis comms lessons from ‘snowmageddon’

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Five crisis comms lessons from ‘snowmageddon’

The ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma brought large sections of the country to a standstill last week.

Offices and schools closed, roads were blocked and the National Grid worryingly warned that we were running out of gas.

But as the excitement or misery, depending on which way you look at it, caused by the big freeze now melts away, are there any comms lessons that can be learnt from ‘snowmageddon’?

Well, the public sector in particular appeared to do snow comms very well and I think there are some lessons other sectors and organisations could learn from the way they handled this particular crisis media management incident.



The communication I saw over the cold snap suggested that many comms teams were executing carefully planned and well drilled strategies.

I know what you’re thinking - you can prepare comms for snow because you typically get plenty of warning and it generally happens once a year.

You are probably also thinking that you can’t possibly prepare for every eventuality that could plunge an organisation into full blown crisis.

While that might be strictly true, and a crisis can certainly come in many different shapes and sizes, you can give yourself a head start by anticipating your organisation’s vulnerabilities and forecasting potential storms (see what I did there?) on the horizon.

What could expose your organisation to public attention, intense media scrutiny and damage your reputation?

The key is to identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities and create a risk register. If your organisation has a risk manager you will already have a detailed register in place and you should ensure comms is included on it.

For those who don’t have one, you can find an example of what one might look like in our free crisis communications eBook.



Crisis communication needs to be clear, unambiguous and accurate and there were some great examples of this during the so called ‘snowmaggedon’.

Take a look at this tweet from the University of Glasgow on February 28.


In one post it covered pretty much all the information students could possibly need about the impeding snow day. 

And that is what other organisations should strive for when delivering information during a crisis because not only does any ambiguity have the potential to cause misunderstanding, but it is also likely to lead to more questions being asked.

By issuing as much information as possible, as clearly and soon as you can, your organisation can take some control of the story whether it is snow related, a data breach or any other form of crisis media management incident.


Talk directly to your customers

There is a hunger for information when things go wrong and people look for credible sources of information.

As the weather deteriorated last week, the Edinburgh Travel News Twitter account (@edintravel) gained 1,500 followers in 36 hours and its tweets were viewed 700,000 times in one 24 hour period.



Of course many people will rely on the media for information and updates when things go wrong and crises are still generally framed by their media coverage.



But crises which are handled particularly well see organisations talk directly to their customers and others who might be impacted.

This is something KFC did very effectively last month when logistical issues saw many of its restaurants run out of chicken. It used its social media channels to provide regular updates, show what restaurants were still open and address rumours and myths which had been circulating.

Such was the strength of that customer messaging that it formed the basis of the company’s responses in mainstream media coverage.

But the KFC example is unfortunately not the norm.

How the Colonlel handled the chicken crisis like a pro


Be consistent

If you start to use a particular channel to update your customers, continue to use it until the incident is over.

During the bad weather I received a text message from the school my children attend telling me it was still open despite the snow. A decision to reverse that policy and close the school was sent on an entirely different channel.  I would have missed it altogether had it not been for my wife’s obsessive use of social media.

But it is not just local schools who slip-up on the consistency front during crises, resulting in it being often not clear where customers, or journalists for that matter, should go for the latest information.

When H&M found itself in the media spotlight recently, following accusations of ‘casual racism’, it adopted a scattergun approach to its messaging.

The first apology appeared to have been sent to reporters upon request; the second took the form of a tweet, and the final apology was published on the company’s website and, somewhat uniquely, only made available on Twitter through the company’s bio. 

The H&M crisis: A tale of multiple apologies 

One of the best crisis approaches is to regularly remind people where they can find the latest information during a crisis.




Dedicated web-pages

An organisation's website can be a powerful tool during a crisis and is something customers will often turn to for information.

We are increasingly seeing organisations set up dedicated pages within their websites to deal with specific issues.

Again, this is something KFC used very effectively during its recent crisis and it was something a number of public sector organisations deployed during the big freeze.

Reading Borough Council, for example, was one of a number of local councils which had a regularly updated webpage containing information on school closures and updates on gritting and waste collections. 


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication training.


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