How to Respond When a Crisis Arrives
Have some credit in the bank.
When a crisis hits, it is useful to have some ‘credit in the bank’ in terms of well-developed relationships with local media – whether that’s a newspaper or local radio station. Radio is a particularly powerful and often overlooked medium – possibly the best place to invest time and resources if you are going to extend in just one direction.
Most heritage organisations now have a social media presence – again, this is a sphere with which you will need to engage if something goes wrong, so build friendly relationships there in good times.
Remember that in reputation management internal is external, and vice-versa. “Those internal stakeholders – volunteers, partners, staff, caterers, supply chain, are all potential ambassadors for your organisation. They are also potential detractors. So invest in those relationships.”
Activate the plan
When you do find yourself in a moment of crisis, activating the plan very much echoes the steps used in preparation. This is one of the reasons why time is never wasted in preparation. Speed is of the essence – activate your plan as soon as possible.
The stages in a nutshell
• Muster your previously agreed response team.
• Start monitoring the situation using the intelligence-gathering channels identified in your plan.
• Establish facts and create content. In some issues and crises, pinning down what happened is vital but not always easy. Perhaps the facts involve human error, and perhaps some of those involved are concerned about the impact on their job or those of colleagues. How do you establish facts when not everyone will be invested in having them revealed? Who in your team is best placed to get an accurate picture?
• Finalise and send out your communications – drawing on your pre-prepared content, and following pre-agreed sign-off procedures. Usually, this will be agreed at a senior level, perhaps involving your CEO, Chair of trustees, head of HR, communications team and an element of legal advice where that is available.
• Lock down your communications channels and concentrate on the ones you have decided to use. In some situations, it will be appropriate to ask allies with the relevant information to spread messaging on your behalf.
Balancing the volume of communication
This is a question of judgement that will depend on the situation, but try to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient.
Regular audiences may have close attachments to local heritage organisations, and are used to hearing from them – try not to leave them in the dark.
However, if the problem is a difficulty at your site, it may be worth waiting for a while, getting all the detail and passing on a full picture of the bad news rather than spreading it out over time and thus unnecessarily extending the crisis.
Sometimes you can’t share all the facts – but silence can be risky too
Confidentiality means that sometimes you can’t share all the facts in the crisis, including some that would cast your organisation in a better light.
From an operational, legal, risk-averse point of view, you might want to say virtually nothing. Bear in mind this carries risks too: will your visitors, staff and stakeholders leap to a particular conclusion to fill the void? Take control of the narrative rather than allowing speculation to fill a communication vacuum.