Be prepared with a crisis communications plan

In Florida, we may prepare our homes and businesses to weather the storm during hurricane season, but what about a crisis issue affecting your organization’s reputation that may occur as a result of a hurricane? When a crisis happens to your business or the organization you work for, what happens next? Who will speak for your organization? What will the messages look like? How will you reach your intended audience?

Creating a crisis communications plan and getting it approved before a crisis occurs is a best practice no matter what business you are in. While some organizations and companies have risk management departments that have plans to address specific issues that interrupt business, a public relations crisis communications plan must focus on addressing reputation and goodwill issues which will eventually impact the bottom line. The recent United Airlines story about forcibly removing a passenger is a great example of this. There was clearly no forethought in the initial response to the crisis that consisted of a half-hearted apology by the CEO to those customers who were inconvenienced. While the social media impact was spiraling out of control without any thoughtful response from United, it was clear that crisis communications best practices were not being followed. With their reputation damaged and any previous goodwill forgotten, stock began to fall while current and potential customers were alienated.

This was an unanticipated crisis which created irrevocable damage in a very short amount of time due to today’s incredibly short media cycle. What can you do for your business or organization? Be prepared with a crisis communications plan that is designed to be easily navigated by your response team, frequently rehearsed with spokespersons and readily implemented in the heat of the moment. Create a template library of press releases, media statements and social media messages that reflect possible crisis scenarios in your business or field. Get these messages approved by the executive team on a sunny day. Have your response team rehearse with your identified spokespersons and practice various scenarios. Identify the best ways to get your messages out to your employees, stakeholders and external audiences. Consider using a variety of channels depending upon the audiences you want to reach.

National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Al Sandrik coordinates emergency communications at a top level on a daily basis. “It is vital for our organization to get very technical information to our employees and the public,” said Sandrik, who works from the Jacksonville Weather Forecast Office.

“We tend to be scientific and definite in the things we say as meteorologists, so the public relations office takes that information and makes it relevant for the audiences we want to reach.” Sandrik is one of several speakers who will be presenting at the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) Gainesville Chapter 2017 Professional Development Seminar: PRmageddon From Crisis to Control on June 9 at the University of Florida Straughn Center. Sanrik will share how social media and visual briefing techniques can be used for effective messaging during a crisis.

Public Information Officer Jeff Williamson, Ph.D. of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office will share his experience with the tragic story of Lane Graves that provided a number of challenges while working with Walt Disney World, a heartbroken family, and the public. Williamson will present best practices on managing messaging during a crisis while being accountable and compassionate in a devastating situation.

Once you have created your crisis communications plan, rehearsing with your spokespersons and response team is critical. Sandi Poreda, APR, of Bulldog Strategy Group and Public Information Officer Ben Tobias of the Gainesville Police Department will work through a series of live crisis prompts designed to simulate a crisis scenario during the FPRA Gainesville Professional Development Seminar on June 9. Small groups will work to evaluate and respond to a hypothetical crisis. Participants will have the opportunity to create basic elements of a crisis communications plan and put them into action.

Poreda enjoys helping people through her work as a public relations professional specializing in crisis communications. “Public relations involves the art of storytelling and has an element of problem solving. Who do we need to talk to? What do we need to say? It is a big puzzle that needs to be figured out.” Poreda became passionate about best practices in crisis communications working for the state of Florida in a variety of positions, including the Florida Attorney General’s Office where she held the position of director of communications.

Creating a crisis communications plan that is easily navigated, rehearsed and implemented will assist you and your business or organization to position itself to respond thoughtfully and communicate clearly when a crisis hits.

If you would like to learn more about crisis communications, consider PRmageddon From Crisis to Control, a professional development seminar presented by FPRA Gainesville on June 9. For tickets or more information, please visit fpragainesville.org or contact MaryBeth Head at mb@two-head.com.

 

By Patricia Krogh
Patricia Krogh currently serves on the FPRA Gainesville Chapter Board as the director of communications and has been the manager of public relations and communications for Haven Hospice since 2013.

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