10 Steps to Managing Communications in a Crisis

Last week, at our diocese’s annual Principals’ Leadership Conference, Kathie Sass, our soon-to-be-retired diocesan spokesperson, gave a wonderful presentation on the 10 steps leaders should take to anticipate and react to crises in their ministries. The talk was based on the work of Jonathan Bernstein.

First, Kathie outlined the steps organizations should take before a crisis to ensure they are ready should a crisis occur:

  1. Anticipate crises and put written policies in place on how to avoid and deal with specific types of crises.
  2. Identify a crisis communications team. The team should include whoever is the head of the organization, legal council, and someone on staff with expertise in the crisis area.
  3. Appoint an official spokesperson. You don’t want media calling teachers, parents, etc. Appoint someone who is well-spoken, not just the person in charge.
  4. Train your spokesperson!
  5. Establish notification and monitoring systems. This includes both old media (television, radio, and newspapers) as well as new media (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.).
  6. Identify and know your stakeholders. Communicate with them and let them know who to refer media inquiries to.
  7. Develop holding statements. Don’t say “No comment”; at the very least express sympathy, offer prayers, and say that a statement will come later. Crisis communications team should review these holding statements regularly to ensure that they are well crafted, easily understood, and truthful!

Kathie then gave guidance on how to respond should a crisis occur:

  1. At the outset of a crisis, assess the situation. Make sure you know the specifics before acting or making a statement. Reacting before you have all the information can result in bad decisions or hasty statements that must later be retracted. (This is where those holding statements come in handy!)
  2. Finalize and adapt your key messages; continue to communicate these messages to your key stakeholders. Don’t automatically act on a lawyer’s advice to say nothing! Transparency can mitigate bad feelings and avoid the appearance of a cover up.
  3. Do a post-crisis analysis. Detail what you did well, what you failed to anticipate, and how you could improve. Update your policies and procedures as needed.

All of us hope that we can avoid crises in our ministries, but the past few decades have shown that we all need to be prepared to act should the unthinkable happen.