Crisis communications

This first appeared on the Kansas Credit Union Association website. The post addresses credit unions specifically, but is good reference for any organization.

On the heels of September’s National Preparedness Month, it’s a good time to visit crisis communication and how your credit union can prepare for a crisis. You never really know how your communications plan will work in a crisis until you are in the middle of one. Whether it’s a natural disaster, employee situation or security issue, by taking a few simple steps you can be prepared when disaster strikes.

Crisis Communication Plan
During a crisis is not the time to develop a plan. Do it now. At a minimum, your plan should include the following:

1. List of employees or board members (with contact information) that should be notified in an emergency. Phone numbers, both home and mobile, e-mail addresses, instant messaging handles, fax numbers…any and all. And most important: Keep this list updated. If you haven’t updated your plan in two years, chances are someone has left the company and new employee information has not been included. Consider a “contact tree.” Let’s say the first person who should be contact is your CEO. That person is then responsible for contacting the Chairman of the Board, who is responsible for notifying the Board, etc.

2. Company/organization fact sheet. Include company history, key management team and information about product and services. If this is already compiled, you won’t be having to update company information and can easily send it to reporters who are asking for background information. Be sure to have headshots of key management and your digital logo handy for reporters.

3. Pre-written messages about the situation. Have sample scripts for a variety of situations, including generic information like “we don’t have that information, but will let you know as soon as it becomes available.”

4. List of appropriate media contacts. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute finding contact information.

Designate a spokesperson.
This is probably one of the most important steps you can take. Decide before who will be the spokesperson for your organization. Make sure they are comfortable speaking in front of the media. Consider providing media training for them.

Two tips when speaking with the media:

  • Don’t talk to the media, talk to the media’s audience. Reporters are writing for people in the community. Try not to use industry jargon and keep messages simple.
  • Talk the way reporters write. Offer a soundbite that includes complete sentences. You only have a few seconds (broadcast) or a few column inches (print) to get your message across. Provide points that media can use.

Keep messages consistent and update regularly.
In this digital age, you are not just providing messages for journalists. You are providing messages to your employees, customers, volunteers and anyone else who you do business with. Use all communication channels including your website, e-mail blasts, message on your company phone system and social networking sites, just to name a few.

Two more points:

  • Have a crisis communication page already developed for your website that can “go live” quickly.
  • If your organization has been using social media, post updates regularly, even if there isn’t much more to say. If your organization has been active on YouTube and is well versed in preparing and uploading videos, this is a great opportunity to prepare a video of your spokesperson discussing the situation. However, this IS NOT the time to start using social networking sites.

You can never be completely prepared for a crisis, because a crisis is sudden, and most of the time, requires immediate action. One of the definitions of crisis is “a situation or period which things are very uncertain, difficult or painful, especially a time when action must be taken to avoid complete disaster or breakdown.” By having a plan in place and following a few simple steps, you can at least help control the situation.

Resource: Public Relations Society of America

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