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5 min read

Crisis Communication Priorities and Protocols

10/6/16 10:00 AM

Image: Lurking cat represents a Communication Crisis

 

Crisis communication is not something I really want our clients to gain experience with. But no matter what your industry or sector, you have at least one potential crisis lurking. (What if your manufactured product failed and caused a tragedy? If you are a nonprofit, what if an employee harmed a person in your care?) Even if you have recognized the need for crisis communication planning and developed your plan, you may find implementation challenging when you are in the midst of a crisis.

It can be very difficult at such a time to think clearly about your priorities and protocols for how best to disseminate information to your various audiences and stakeholders. Let’s walk through how you can develop a basic checklist now, so it’s ready if (or when) you need it in a crisis.

Start by Determining What Your Communication Objectives Are

Let’s say you are a nonprofit organization, a public entity, or a socially responsible business — just because these are the folks we know best. Your communication objectives are to maintain credibility, demonstrate transparency, and preserve your reputation (or brand) by doing the right thing. You may also have regulatory requirements to meet. You need to be first with the news, but not before your objectives — and your messages — are clear for your communication team.

Gather Your Facts and Develop Your Messages

Accept that determining the facts may be a challenge. Your goal is to avoid speculation and stick to the known facts. Develop your talking points using a basic message triangle, a tool that has been tested in many such occasions. (Deciding what you say and how you say it during a crisis or emergency is fodder for a future blog post.)

Crisis Information Distribution Checklist (in Order of Priority)

Now you are ready to get the news out. Here is the order of priority we recommend as best practice for the channels and distribution of agreed-upon information and messages. (This works for good news too, but it's particularly critical with bad news and crisis communications):

  1. Board or governing body (Be clear about when the information you are sharing will be public and what must be kept confidential until then.)
  2. All employees (Be clear about when the information you are sharing will be public, what must be kept confidential until then, and where front-line staff can find reference information.)
  3. New background information, talking points, FAQs, a news release, and landing pages for your website. (These may not be 'published' yet, but need to be available to internal audiences for reference. This is often step #1 if your information is complex or nuanced.)
  4. Key government officials — this is necessary for both private and public sector organizations, and includes local, state, and federal levels as appropriate, for example, Town Selectboard, Congressional delegation, and so forth, depending on the situation. Be clear about when the information you are sharing will be public. (You will usually want to notify government officials by phone, sometimes email is ok.)
  5. Prep and schedule social media posts with links to your new website pages. Begin intensive monitoring of social media.
  6. The next few steps are often all-but-simultaneous, but if that's not possible, then the order is important because now you are going 'public' and as a member of one of your audiences, how well I receive your message will depend on when and how and from whom I receive the message.
  7. Key suppliers, dealers/distributors and partners (via email or phone.) These folks only come first if customers are likely to contact them.
  8. B2B customers (via email or phone). If by email, link to a website page just for them.
  9. Make your new website page(s) public, if not already done.
  10. Potentially affected customers or students, via email with a link to relevant web pages. Follow up with snail mail if necessary or required to reach them.
  11. Distribute a media advisory if a news conference is necessary. If not, send a brief news release, which includes links to your website pages for reference, and simultaneously post social media messages with links to the release on your website, or vice versa. (Note that you may want to tweet the media before sending a news release.)
  12. Repeat this checklist as necessary when substantive new information becomes available.

Note that although the media is eager to get breaking news stories and will help you reach the general public, they must come after your stakeholders in a crisis or emergency situation. No one likes to be surprised at such a time.

Here's hoping your crisis communication checklist is ready — and that you need never use it....

Resources

Institute for Public Relations

Centers for Disease Control’ s Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications: Best Practices[podcast]

16 Best Practices for Social Media Crisis Communications from BlogWorld [Radian 6 and Salesforce.com]

 

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photo credit: Jennifer Doyon via flickr Creative Commons license 2.0

 

 

Pat Heffernan

Written by Pat Heffernan

Pat Heffernan — marketing strategist, writer, and founder of Marketing Partners in Burlington, Vermont — writes about strategy, words, and communication to create change.

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