Cathy Kelly runs through five key tips to get prepared for a crisis. She also talks practically about how best to look after your team in a crisis situation and how to avoid the mistakes her and her teams made when managing a crisis.
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Today I’m going to be talking to you about how you manage and prepare for a potential communications crisis. So it could be something along the lines of staff redundancies, it could be a major health outbreak, or it could be a security breach. But effectively it’s something where you want to contain and control some of the messages going out. A lot of this you can prepare in advance believe it or not.
I am a former journalist and I’ve also got around 20 years’ experience of working with, and writing for the media on major media campaigns. But I’ve also worked in house with various organisations including hospitals and different health trusts. I’ve dealt with some of these situations myself and there’s nothing like first-hand experience to know what you’re talking about and to learn from your mistakes and we did make some mistakes.
So the first time I had to deal with a crisis it was something which came out of the blue for one of the major London hospitals we worked for at the time. We were literally were glued to the telephones dealing with media inquiries and giving interviews for around 10 hours. During that time we didn’t eat enough, drink enough or even go to the loo enough. So we learnt by the end of it that, that’s really not how you do it. In terms of managing the situation in terms of communication materials that we gave out and shared with the media, we did a good job. But we didn’t do a good job of looking after ourselves.
So one of the key things is to look after your team in a crisis. To make sure that you have people being runners and feeding them, giving them drinks, letting them having toilet breaks. It sounds really basic, but those things are incredibly important.
The second time I had to deal with a crisis I was on my day off, and I had young kids, and I ended up having a little incident room in my kitchen, in my house. So I was dealing with national journalists and dealing with a measles outbreak. But because I had frequently asked questions already written and prepared in case that happened. Because I had holding statements and because I had details of journalists, it didn’t panic me so much because I had everything to hand. I also had details of other directors and I had their contact details.
So what I would say first is to look at your communication channels and to make sure that you have as much in place as you possibly can. You need to look at internal communication channels, because the first people you should be trying to reach are your staff, because they’re going to be having to deal with this with you, and they’re also going to be reacting to it, and potentially reading about it, or watching it on the news. So you need to find a way, or find different ways of reaching different groups of staff in the best possible way. This may be through email, through your intranet, through cascade systems within your organisation, with managers’ briefings. All sorts of things that you may have in place. So tap into those and have things written in advance if you can to actually make things as quick and easy as possible for you, so you’re just slotting in the details specific to your incident.
The other things you need to think about are the external systems that you have in place. So you’re effectively going to be using things like social media, your website, and the media, in terms of issuing holding statements and possibly press releases about the incident, which has taken place. So you need to make sure that you have all these things set up in advance.
Towards the end of the video I’m going to be sharing a free resource with you. It’s a media crisis template plan, so that you can apply to your own organisation. So look at maybe areas, which you should be addressing and things that you need to focus on. To make sure that you’re as ready as you possibly can be. Because by being ready you really take the heat out of an incident, because when it strikes, it strikes without any warning. That sounds very obvious, but you need to make it as least stressful as possible for you, because it will be pretty frantic. You won’t have time to think about other things.
One of the things I wanted to focus on a little bit was what should actually go into your media contingency plan. So this will be all the telephone contact numbers for all the people that may be useful for you in that situation. So it’ll be people like your communications manager and director, the different directors responsible for perhaps different parts of the organisation. Key people that you need to be able to contact in a crisis.
You also need to think about your key media contacts, who are the media that you have on side that you trust, that you can use to your advantage and to brief in these situations. Also media who you need to reach who perhaps you don’t have those relationships with. Have them all in your plan so that everything’s to hand, it’s easy as possible for you, and is quick to reach the people you need to reach with your messages.
You also need to split the incidents into different types of incidents. So for example here we have a critical media inquiry with a camera on site. So someone’s pitched up, they’ve heard about something that’s happened, perhaps it’s a security breach, or a potential bomb alert. They’ve turned up with a TV crew, so you need to be able to react to them very quickly. You need to know what to do when that happens. So for each incident you have a page in your plan. So if that thing happens you pull out the page, and you run through the process. You’re not having to think on the hoof, you’re not having to make it up as you go along. It’s ready, it’s prepared for you. You’re taking the heat out of the incident.
You also can maybe look at things like a riot or a major disturbance. Perhaps you might have a death on your premises or in one of your stores. It may be a fire or a bomb alert, or even damage to property. So you have emergency checklist, and you work through those checklists. By following a particular checklist you are reacting to it in a way, which you feel comfortable and in a timely fashion.
Five Tips to Prepare For Crisis Communications