By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
Amid three mass shootings in two weeks, it was surprising to get a call from the public information officer (PIO) of a city, asking what it would cost them to implement my crisis communications plan system for their town.
“We have lots of festivals and I think we are vulnerable to a mass shooting like they had at the Garlic Festival in California,” she said. In that shooting, four people died, including the gunman, and 13 others were injured.
Why is it surprising that a city wants a crisis communications plan? The reality is, every community and business should have a crisis communications plan with pre-written news releases for mass shootings and workplace shootings. But history tells us that a crisis seldom generates a discussion along the lines of, “What would we do if that happened here?” as it relates to communications and specifically crisis communications.
Hats off to this PIO for wanting to open a discussion with her city leaders. She admits that she’s been rebuffed before when she has tried to generate interest for having a robust crisis communications plan. The city’s elected officials seem to think it is a waste of time and money. They expect the PIO can just magically respond.
This flawed thinking is common among elected officials and corporate leaders. Many are in denial or ignorant about how fast news travels on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels. This is due in part to the fact that many of these decision makers don’t like or use social media, so they know of it… but they don’t understand the nuance of how fast bad news travels.
Time was when each shooting used to generate an article from me, urging people to evaluate how each school, community or business responded. We would examine whether news conferences were done correctly, whether the first news release was issued in less than one hour, and we would examine how media filled the void of news with mindless speculation. Those articles usually led to rebuffs alleging that it was “too soon to talk about it” or that it was “too opportunistic to talk about it.”
Experts in crisis communications would advise you that each crisis, whether it is a mass shooting, workplace violence, natural disaster, or sexual misconduct allegation, creates an opportunity to have a conversation and ask, “What would we do?” and “Are we prepared for something like this?”
If you want to be the crisis expert in your school, community, or company, here are 5 Steps that you can take immediately:
1) Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment to determine all of the potential crises that could befall your community or your company. This becomes your road map for your crisis communications plan and the number of pre-written statements you will want to have in your crisis communications plan.
2) Write a Crisis Communications Plan that precisely guides the organization through the process of gathering information quickly, confirming that information with leaders, then quickly issuing a series of statements to the public, the media, employees, and other key stakeholders.
3) Write a Library of Pre-written Statements that can be edited and customized quickly for distribution. That same statement should go to all employees, the public, to your website, and to your social media channels.
4) Conduct Media Training for all potential spokespeople and teach them how to conduct a news conference using the pre-written statements. The statements must be written for the spoken word and they must proactively answer every question that reporters will ask in a news conference. Never send a spokesperson out to ad-lib a news conference. It gets ugly fast.
5) Once you have completed the above four tasks, conduct a Crisis Communications Drill so that you can test your plan, your pre-written statements, and your spokespeople. Pepper your drill with misdirection, mock social media posts, and add at least two mock news conferences to your drill.
Be bold. Start a conversation that others may not be willing to have.
Be bold. Take action.
If you’d like to dig deeper into these five steps, request your free access to the 5-part video series on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications. Use this link to register.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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