We live in an “instant information” age, with 24-hours news channels on TV, radio, and the Web, all needing information and wanting exciting, attention-getting headlines. This creates an environment where managing the message to the media takes on heightened importance, since the chance for a misstep to go unnoticed is slim. We have all seen the effects of negative media exposure and witnessed the ramifications of harmful leaks or misinformation to the press. The results have caused businesses to suffer, organizations to be unfairly maligned, and, as seen with early reports about ‘swine flu,’ a nation to panic.
There is a better way. Through crisis communications planning, companies and government organizations can have a clearly defined and effective process in place to immediately manage the message to the media and, therefore, the public. This will lessen panic, provide calm, clear directives and suggestions, and negate further trauma. And this communication and interaction with the media and the public can be done in a manner that’s consistent with protecting sensitive sources and information.
Many government agencies are reviewing their crisis communications plans and putting Public Information Centers (PICs) into place. Their reasons are clear:
• Companies and organizations that have a crisis communications plan are significantly more effective in handling disaster situations.
• They can respond faster because they know what to do. Speed is crucial to negate rumors and hearsay and contain the damage as quickly as possible.
• Companies and organizations that cooperate with media and share facts with the public consistently are more trusted by the public.
• Companies and organizations that demonstrate loyalty to their clients by placing their clients’ needs first in dealing with the crisis are more likely to survive a crisis situation.
The PIC leadership develops, creates, and tests the crisis communications plan, provides guidance in training team members and spokespeople, and overall provides necessary tools so your organization is well prepared to speedily respond to a potential media crisis. A thorough planning phase should include the following:
Identify a crisis team/Re-evaluate existing crisis team’s roles
Analyze your vulnerabilities
Evaluate your existing procedures
Identify the new procedures you need
Designate a spokesperson(s)
Draft a comprehensive crisis communications plan
Simulate/test crisis communications plan
As disasters unfortunately seem to be a more common occurrence, our skills for dealing with them must be honed. An effective crisis communications plan provides your team with the blueprint to navigate rough waters effectively, to minimize panic, reassure your audiences, and protect sensitive sources. A delicate balancing act - but one Public Affairs and Public Relations professionals must engage in more and more frequently. Planning and preparedness help make dealing with a disaster a lot less disastrous.
For a more thorough explanation of what goes into an effective crisis communications plan, please see my article at http://www.adviceunlimited.net/article_01.htm. If you’d like to discuss creating such a plan for your organization, please contact me at [email protected]