Crisis communications planning – an essential insurance

Association news
Published on 18 February 2021

Every association has to have public liability insurance, employee liability insurance … a whole raft of other insurances to protect them against anything that might go wrong but there is no obligation to have crisis communications insurance.  Which means many organisations haven’t done the crisis communications planning which will insure them should the worst happen and a disaster strike their association.

The impact of that can be the kind of reputational damage that could sink even the most successful of organisations.

The problems could be caused by:

  • tone-deaf actions during the heat of the crisis, which put profit before people
  • a corporate member who might put their foot in their mouth when speaking to the press
  • social media accounts which update automatically with inappropriate posts
  • an employee posting the wrong thing on social media or revealing confidential information to the press
  • disconnect between the PR department and the rest of the business leading to breakdowns in communications

You can avoid this by having a robust crisis management strategy in place.  As with every insurance policy, you hope to goodness you’ll never need it – however, if your organisation is facing a problem which threatens to spiral out of control, you’ll be extremely glad you’ve invested in one.

When we worked on a crisis strategy for a national organisation, they already had comprehensive emergency management plans in place to restore operations if anything went wrong and ensure business continuity.

However, there was a gaping hole in those plans - how to communicate with the public, stakeholders or the press.

No plans to ensure that the right messages were delivered to the right audiences by the right people at the right time.

No plans to protect them from too inquisitive reporters, or angry customers who posted complaints on social media.

No plans to make sure that if they had to do potentially hostile interviews, their spokespeople could handle difficult questioning with confidence.

We went through all their emergency procedures, crisis management plans and IT/social media policies to develop an integrated crisis communications strategy that works with them all.

In certain situations, the strategy is automatically triggered, so the marketing and communications manager is informed of what is going on and instigates a range of crisis communications procedures.

These range from informing switchboard to be on guard for journalists’ calls to drafting holding statements, key messages and press releases, from updating their website and social media to briefing press spokespeople, from putting additional press office staff in place to planning a press conference.

As part of the strategy, we ran a workshop for switchboard staff on how to answer the phones to journalists without either antagonising them or giving away too much, and crisis communications interview training for their senior team.

Throughout all this, we listened and collaborated and consulted with those working at the coalface of the organisation about what they are most likely to encounter and where the weaknesses are in the current system.

While some of their senior leaders were unconvinced at the beginning of the process, by the end, they acknowledged that the new crisis strategy would provide reassurance that if they face an emergency, they will have confidence to handle the media and protect, or even enhance, their reputation.

And that is an insurance policy worth having.

Ann Wright, Rough House Media

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