By Patrice Cloutier, Strategic communications professional and member of the Agnes + Day Crisis Intelligence Team.
A key part of any crisis communications plan is identifying key segments of your audience and prioritizing your response efforts. This is made an even harder task nowadays because of social networks and the need for a speedy implementation of your plan.
In many cases, organizations still carry plans that identify the legacy media as the primary audience. While it can work in some instances, the “go write a news release” approach can lead to a crisis “battle rhythm” that can bring them squarely back to the 1980s. The same applies to “old style” one-on-one media relations based on personal contacts. They can be useful but over-reliance on such relationships can impede your ability to respond quickly.
How news of a crisis travels is a critical reason why plans should be updated. Being first is not just about getting your story out first. Occupying the public space quickly, with relevant information, the right tone and on the right platforms, will help organizations dealing with a crisis shape public opinion.
My good friend, Gerald Baron, commented on a recent article which highlighted ways to deal with journalists and media outlets to mitigate the impact of a crisis. While this can be helpful (and even necessary), it focuses efforts on an outdated approach to handling an emerging issue. The reliance on an intermediary by organizations who want to tell their stories, should not exist any longer.
Many tools allow those facing a crisis to be present on many channels and tell their story directly to the audiences that matter to them: employees, shareholders, suppliers, clients, the public, etc. As a former reporter, it pains me to say that my former colleagues have a fight on their hands to remain relevant. Only those media outlets who themselves adapt to new realities and find innovative ways to deliver their narratives will have the ability to be heard.
Becoming your own broadcaster in a crisis can be the right approach, particularly when the “face” of your response (your CEO for example) is adept at conveying competence, compassion and optimism. Bank on that. Create a message map with powerful speaking points, then use that to write a news release. Don’t let the news release and the associated approvals process drive your efforts.
Patrice Cloutier is currently Team Lead for strategic communications in the Communications Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. As such, he plays a key role in the planning and delivery of emergency information at the provincial level and in crisis communications planning. Patrice spent close to 10 years as a reporter and broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada and as a freelance journalist. He’s an avid blogger and social media enthusiast. Connect with Patrice on Twitter.
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