It is not so much a matter of ‘if’ a crisis hits your organisation as ‘when’.
And when it does happen the media will be more demanding than ever and your customers hungry for information.
There will be little time for calm reflection, clearing facts with colleagues and planning responses.
The key to good crisis media management is to prepare in advance.
Our 14 point checklist will help you get that preparation right and think about what you need to do when crisis strikes.
But it can also be used during a crisis to help you handle the situation.
1 Do you understand what has happened?
This may seem like a strange question, but the last thing you need is to include inaccuracies, assumptions or speculation in anything your organisation says. That will add confusion to the situation, increase scrutiny and will of course need correcting. So before you begin talking to the media and your customers there needs to be clarity on what has taken place. Of course, the crisis could evolve, but you need to be sure of exactly what has happened so far. If you need more information do you know where to go?
2 Is everyone on your crisis team aware?
If you have developed a crisis communications plan and tested it with realistic scenario based training that included crisis management media training you should have a crisis team in place.
Each member of this team should have assigned roles so as soon as you become aware of a crisis it is vital you ensure the rest of the team has been notified.
3 Do you have holding statements you can use?
Getting messages out promptly, even if initially through a simple holding statement, will show that you are in control of the situation, and are taking it seriously. It will also help prevent the spread of speculation and rumour. But stick to what you know at that time.
4 Are you logging media interest?
It’s important to record where media interest is coming from and what is being reported. This will help you to challenge inaccuracies, identify themes, understand where information is coming from and know what needs to be covered in future statements and media interviews.
5 Other organisations?
If other organisations or businesses are involved in the crisis do you know who the relevant comms people are? Are they aware of the situation? Have you agreed messages and an approval process? How will any joint approval process work with your own internal sign-off?
6 Are you keeping the information flowing?
In the high-pressure atmosphere of a crisis it can be tempting to view the media as the enemy and try to say as little as possible. But your holding statement is only going to last for so long. So make sure you are on the front foot by continuing to release details and information at regular intervals. Let journalists and your customers know when and where they can expect updates and you’ll find it eases the pressure on the comms team. Failure to provide regular updates will only see the media fill the void.
7 Are you showing you care?
You need to show your customers and potential future customers that you understand the severity of what has happened and the impact it has had.
Phrases like ‘deeply sorry’ and ‘deep regret’ are useful here – but speak from the heart – don’t become a cliché.
If the crisis revolves around an accident, show how you are helping those who have been injured. If the crisis has been caused by a loss of data, highlight how you are helping affected customers and working to ensure it cannot happen again.
Ensure all you communication shows compassion, concern, honesty and empathy.
8 Have you identified your spokespeople?
It is often assumed the chief executive will front a crisis, but they may not always be the best person to put in front of the media. If the crisis is a tragic accident with multiple deaths and serious injuries, then the head of the organisation needs to be there to show they care and are accountable. But if it is a large IT failure, for example, would the IT director not be better placed to lead the media response?
9 Do you require regional spokespeople?
If the crisis centres on a regional office, using a media trained spokesperson from that site may be beneficial.
Not only are there logistical benefits, but it can help you engage and win the trust of the audience and shows a commitment to the area and the people who live there.
10 What is being said on social media?
As well as meeting the demands of the media you are now faced with a range of extra channels to monitor, manage and feed.
The huge growth of social media also means a crisis is likely to reach the mainstream media much quicker than before.
Your customers will start tweeting and posting information about your crisis as soon as it happens and journalists will quickly get a lead for a story.
As with mainstream media, your need to monitor what is being said effectively, respond quickly, provide regular updates and again communicate with compassion, concern, honesty and empathy.
11 Press conference?
If your crisis attracts lots of media attention and you want to hold a press conference do you have a suitable venue to hold a press conference? Does it have a clear escape route for your spokesperson at the end of proceedings? Is there adequate parking for journalists? Effective crisis communications training often includes press conference training so make sure your team is fully media trained.
12 Out of hours contacts
There’s every chance a crisis may strike outside normal working hours or that media interest continues beyond the traditional working day. Do the media know how to contact your organisation out-of-hours? Is this contact information available on your website? Depending upon the scale and impact of the crisis will you need to create a new media landing page or even put updates on your homepage?
13 Are you communicating internally?
It can be all too easy to focus on your external messages during a crisis and forget about your internal comms. But an organisation’s employees are its ambassadors and can be strong advocates. Ensure they know what the company is doing to deal with the situation before they hear about it in the media. Be honest and ensure visible leadership. An engaged workforce is less likely to give potentially damaging information to a journalist or post something unhelpful on social media. Make sure they know what to do if approached by a reporter.
14 What can you learn from the crisis?
After the crisis it is important to look at what worked well and where improvements could be made. Would you do things differently if faced by a similar situation in the future? Would you use the same spokespeople? Do your spokespeople need more media training? Do you need to look at different social media monitoring tools?
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a guide to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
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 highly practical crisis communication training.
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