Critical Incident Response advice.
Crises happen; and when they do, damage control is required. Even if your organisation pays no attention to communications, spend some time and energy considering how you will cope with negative media attention.
Negative publicity can quickly undo years of good work. CIR planning is as close to reputation insurance as you can get. Don’t think that your past media experience will hold you in good stead. NFPs can get accustomed to soft, supportive media. CIR media is different. You’ll be speaking to different media and different journalists with different expectations and deadlines.
Some damage control advice:
See it coming – most crises are not surprising to those in the know. Disgruntled staff, volunteers or clients are ignored; dodgy financial transactions are undisclosed and poor work practices are tolerated. What’s that saying about stitches in time…
Correct the mistake ASAP. If you have made the mistake – admit it. Don’t lie, half apologise, stay silent or grumble. If media or a third party is in error correct that swiftly and without room for misinterpretation.
Have a specific plan and stick to it.
Have a single point of contact for media. Tell all staff and stakeholders to refer media inquiries to this person.
Have a single, trained spokesperson. This may not be the boss. It should be someone across the issues, with real authority who can also communicate to the media effectively.
Address just the key issues with specific, refined messages.
Don’t wait – like nature, the media and your enemies will fill a vacuum.
Use press conferences and door-stop interviews as ways to communicate your message. They give you maximum control. (That’s why they are used by corrupt cricketers and punch-happy footballers.) Press releases look very defensive.
Have a non-perishable story in your bottom drawer. This is a story (obviously positive) that can be told at any time. Use it to deflect attention.
Throw out the bad apple. Too often organisations defend the indefensible. Churches, unions, ethnic associations and big employers regularly do this. The public will respect an organisation that is willing to make the hard decisions.
Prioritise your key audiences such as staff, volunteers and donors – as they will follow the story more closely than strangers.
Make the action you take public knowledge.