It’s finally happened - some sort of emergency, crisis or unfortunate issue that warrants a response, and fast. The problem is that even after you’ve blown the dust off the policy or communications plan, you’re still having to come up with the responses that no one could ever have foreseen.
Writing them isn’t so much an issue, but getting through the nightmare of approval is. Twitter is off to the races and you’re just about at the end of the 68 page communications strategy. You’re still none the wiser.
How many times has something blown up and you’ve asked for approval on a line to take and within thirty minutes, the whole world knows your business? Your chief is still in a meeting and no one will give you access to get the all important sign off.
We have been there - we feel your pain and frustration.
Here are our top tips on how to make it easier to get lines out there, and fast.
We’re not saying that you should have a crystal ball, but think about all the major disasters, emergencies and significant events in history. Do you notice that they kind of follow a pattern?
It’s not often something so very unique happens that it is a communications game changer. When it does, that’s a whole different story, quite literally. This is all about predictable outcomes and responses.
Any experienced communicator can list the key questions asked by the media and public in relation to a certain incident. Take some time out and really think about what could happen and then what should happen.
Create yourself a ‘big red book’. This is the ultimate guide to disasters and how you should respond operationally. Create yours from a comms perspective. 95% of incidents will have a predictable outcome which means you can predict what you will say about them.
Make a list of all of these potential questions, come up with a form of words and get them approved in advance.
There will always be the event that totally comes out of the blue, but because you’ve prepared for everything else, this shouldn’t derail you quite so much.
Fear is a big deal (read our article about social media fears) - it is usually the single largest cause of inaction or over reaction. Neither are good when you’re a professional communicator. It’s time to get down to it and talk to your management team about what exactly scares them about communications. Is it that they have no faith in their team? Big problem - your values won’t align if they don’t. Or is it that they are fearful of would could happen to them if it goes awry?
If you have an honest and open conversation about the fears of people you represent then you might find a way around getting approval for what to say. Ultimately, you[re the professional communicator They should be coming to you for approval on what to say, not the other way around.
Once you’ve worked out what they are scared of then you can start calming those fears. You might need to provide reports on your effectiveness as a communications dept. They might need to understand the positive sides of social media and public engagement. They may have a fear of being on TV. Whatever it is, work it out and fix it. Being a communicator is not just about, well, communicating - it’s about having empathy, foresight and the charm to apply the salving balm to those nervous souls you shepherd.
Your head is an amazing thing. It’s truly a place of wonder and creativity, but sadly, if you don’t give access to that mind then it’s pointless when it comes to the crunch. Keep a running log of all of your lines to take that you’ve already got approved and make sure everyone has access to them. It’s important to always have a record of what you might, did and could potentially say. It protects you and your team in the all-important post-incident debrief.
You know there are going to be certain things you just have to say - if it’s a big weather event, a large scale traffic incident or anything in between that’s going to cause disruption. The biggest headache when you are under significant pressure is converting long lines into bite-sized social updates. Get your lines and translate them into every platform character length you use.
Our ‘quick response’ allow you to save every response or update you would ever need. Take a look or book a quick walkthrough to see how it can help you.
There’s nothing more heart stopping than a communication strategy that hasn’t been kept updated - particularly when you look at it just an hour into a major incident. Sometimes this is worse than there being no strategy at all. Keep looking at your lines, review them and make sure they are current and in line with new developments in technologies, politics and communication methods.
We’ve seen many strategies that were so out of date they didn’t include social media.
Use peacetime to prepare for the inevitable incidents that are set to happen sooner or later.
Our ‘cases’ allow you to save communication strategies in a place where your whole team can collaborate and review at any time, then ensure all your activity is kept in one place. Take a look or book a quick walkthrough to see how it can help you.
When it comes down to it, you’re the comms professional so really, you’re the one that should have the autonomy over the communication from your organisation. Work hard on your reputation with your peers, managers and team - both internally and externally. Let’s face it, if they can’t trust in you they won’t trust in anything you write. With a strong reputation you’re more likely to get the support you need when you need it the most.
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