May 1, 2015
If your operation was suddenly in the spotlight and the news media showed up on your doorstep, could you handle an interview? Do you know who would serve as spokesman for your operation? Would you know what key points to communicate to neighbors, community, and local leaders? If not, it’s time to compile a crisis communication plan.
In the past, it was much easier to avoid newspaper or television journalists. Media requests often came through phone calls to a general number or — can you imagine — a fax request for an interview. Now, cell phones, emails, social media tags, and personal messages all mean greater access; whether or not you want it. Typically, the media doesn’t show up unless something has gone wrong, and you need to be prepared. So what does that mean?
1) Anticipate what could happen. Consider the most likely scenarios to draw the media to your door and develop talking points.
2) Respond promptly and truthfully. Keep messages clear, concise, and on point. Be calm and cooperative.
3) Consider all forms of communication. While many are accustomed to traditional media channels, don’t forget social media channels. Unhappy community members certainly won’t.
4) Follow up as needed. Sometimes, you need additional information before you can answer a question. It’s okay to tell a media representative you don’t have the information they need, but you will get it to them. Just be sure to follow through.
5) Evaluate the results. Learn from the experience, and adjust plans for future communications accordingly.
As you develop a crisis communication plan, also look to your peers. For example, when a blast at a British Columbia operation disturbed neighbors, the operator quickly issued a letter of apology to neighbors. According to The News, the letter cited unforeseen weather changes in the weather and air pressure after the blast was loaded. “We noticed the changes in conditions,” the letter noted, “but since we had already started loading the blast, it is best practice (safety wise) to let the blast go instead of letting mixed explosives sit overnight.” The letter also noted that the resulting air pressure was outside the acceptable tolerances for company standards, but explained that its standards are more stringent than the provincial government standards. Finally, it outlined a number of ways it had modified its operations to create less impact for neighbors.
So, let’s review. They proactively apologized. They outlined the scientific conditions behind the air pressure. They explained that safety concerns caused them to proceed with the blast. They highlighted that they go beyond legal requirements. And, they noted numerous ways in which they strive to be a good neighbor.
If your crisis communication plan is as effective as this one, you’ll be well prepared when the media comes knocking.