With Muckle Media, Managing Director Nathalie Agnew and guest speaker, Former Head of Communications at the Greater Manchester Police, Amanda Coleman.
Crisis is a bit of an anomaly on our communications wheel as we walk you through different stages to ultimately deliver a well-rounded strategic plan. Crisis however is one of those things that’s important for everyone to plan depending on your organisation and its current situation.
At times, crisis will become more or less relevant but as a base we recommend having a crisis manual in place just in the event of something happening.
Things to consider when creating a crisis plan
When thinking about a crisis plan it is important to consider ‘what is a crisis and what is an issue?’.
This is something that makes a fundamental change to your organisation
; If you manage this carefully you can avoid it becoming something bigger like a crisis
This will be different for every organisation, but, by identifying issues now you can potentially stop it from becoming a crisis. Nathalie recommends having two separate plans in place for each of these.
- Outline key contacts and roles
One of the biggest issues we have is a crisis never happening during regular hours (Mon-Fri, 9-5), they usually happen when least expected, during the night, the weekend, or over the holidays. It’s important to be prepared right away. A critical starting point would involve creating a list outlining all of the teams contact details and clear roles including ownership over each stakeholder group.
Key messages in a crisis are likely to be related to safety, learning and empathy. You may need a secondary set of messages that supports the overall messaging. However, if you’ve created a really strong set of key messages, from an organisation perspective you should be able to deliver these even at a time of crisis. A good way of testing these out is thinking if you could use them in both a good and bad situation.
It may not be something you want to do but think about 10 things that could possibly go wrong in your organisation. What would cause the most damage and where are those weak points? Once you’ve established this you can group these together to create a scenario plan.
- Respond to key stakeholders
A fundamental point in any crisis plan is thinking about how to respond to specific stakeholders. If you have a crisis and haven’t informed your team or suppliers for example, then you’re going to have some gaps. If you get everyone onboard early, it will help you in the long run.
- Learn from previous mistakes
There are two ways to learn from previous mistakes, the first involving a review and thinking about best practice and what you’ve learned. Was your messaging received the way you intended it and was anything misconstrued?
The second option would be looking at how similar organisations have handled a crisis e.g. restaurants being closed due to a COVID outbreak. Take a look at their media coverage, social channels and get a feeling for those who have done well. This will give you some key learning that you can then apply to your plan.
Approaching a crisis in the first 60 minutes
This stage is absolutely critical and is where you need to act fast to establish the facts.
Start by drafting an initial statement, often referred to as a holding or drawer statement, outlining the facts and setting an expectation of future communications. This might be something you push out proactively or prepare in the case of recieving outbound enquirires.
Think about how you will respond on digital and social media. In the case of a major crisis, Nathalie recommends establishing a hashtag and being proactive. Although this may be a brave step, it allows you to monitor and take control of the communication by sharing the information first.
By this point you should be ready to put out your holding statement to media, acknowledging that you’re aware of the situation and informing them when you will be back in touch as well as contacting any key stakeholders. Here we treat media as its own separate group to stakeholders.
Establish who in your team is dealing with what and set a comms plan of how regularly you will go out to your stakeholders. Divide an action plan and map out what’s needing to be done.
For more insights on the following steps to the initial 60 minutes, please get in touch with our team who will share more inofmration.
Handling a crisis during a national threat
Amanda Coleman has worked in the comms industry for over 20 years and has gone on to set up her own crisis communications consultancy.
One of Amanda’s most notable roles was leading the comms team for Greater Manchester Police when the Manchester bombings occurred. Something Amanda notes as a key turning point in her career and has shown her how the world and crisis comms has evolved.
Amanda explains that the beginning of a crisis is fairly straightforward and tends to be the easiest part once you get over the initial shock. Your key messages are likely to be much easier to control when you’re dealing with the initial situation but as it develops it becomes more complicated and that’s the most challenging part.
Greater Manchester Police, like many major cities, planned extensively for something like this happening but it still came as a surprise when it actually happened and you don’t realise the full extent of it till much longer after. Amanda mentioned at the time of the bombings she was really busy putting out as much information as possible overnight, in the following days, months, and even years.
When sharing this information, Amanda expressed “it’s so important to be open, honest, transparent and say as much as you can about what’s happening. But, remember to be clear when you don’t know things otherwise you’re at risk of saying something to cover gaps and being held hostage to it in the future.”
At the heart of everything she does, Amanda finds it crucial to remain focussed on people (your team, your organisation, the people affected), as it’s easy to get swept away and become distanced in the midst of everything.
Over the years, Amanda has done a lot of reflecting on crisis comms and finds there needs to be more importance placed on wellbeing during a crisis response. It was one of her hardest challenges telling her team not to come in the night of the attack because she needed them rested and well to help be at their most effective the next day. Nathalie added that the lines are becoming more blurred nowadays between creating a healthy work and home life balance.
To conclude, Amanda added “when dealing with a crisis, look from the outside in as if you’ve just recieved the news and see if the words resonate and are appropriate. The small stuff really does matter.”
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