Crisis communications basics for UC ANR leaders
It’s impossible to anticipate every issue or crisis your unit or office will face, but there are steps you can take to be better prepared from a communications standpoint. Probably the most important is to capture a list of frequent or potential issues you face (conduct a vulnerability audit) and share it with Strategic Communications. It's also helpful if you can assemble related policies and talking points for each issue, that can be used to craft messaging. For example, in anticipation of potential issues related to volunteer conduct, organize the policies and key messages related to volunteer service at UC ANR into a quick-reference format.
Once you have your issues list identified, identify a point of contact for each issue. This person should be a leader in the organization and will partner with the core UC ANR Crisis Communications Team when an issue arises. For example, any issues related to master gardener volunteers would have Missy Gable as the point of contact.
Core crisis communications team:
- A member of senior leadership (generally Glenda Humiston, Wendy Powers or a Vice Provost)
- Linda Forbes (or Pam Kan-Rice as backup)
- Brian Oatman
- Robin Sanchez
- UCOP legal counsel (if needed)
When a crisis happens
First and foremost in a crisis, contact Risk & Safety Services and Strategic Communications. It is important during a crisis that only authorized spokespersons speak about it publicly on behalf of the organization. At UC ANR, authorized spokespersons include members of the core crisis communications team and leaders of the program/s being affected by the issue. Spokesperson responsibilities include online communications (website statements, email announcements) and social media as well as speaking to the media. It’s critical that spokespeople be trained and skilled; UC ANR leaders who are not comfortable in this role should designate an alternate.
For some crises, such as those involving death or injury, it is important that Vice President Humiston be the lead spokesperson for UC ANR unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
Crisis communications do not come naturally to many people. Consider participating in crisis communications training to prepare you to respond effectively. All stakeholders, internal or external, are capable of misunderstanding or misinterpreting information about the situation, and you can minimize the chance of that happening. Lynda.com offers training in this area, and Brian Oatman or Linda Forbes can also provide consultation.
Monitoring online conversations about your organization and/or the crisis situation is an essential part of preparing for and managing a crisis. Social listening to learn what employees, customers, and other stakeholders are saying can help you prevent or mitigate a crisis, and monitoring the conversation during a crisis can help you adjust your approach to handling it. There are a number of technological solutions to help with monitoring, from Google Alerts to Hootsuite to Brandwatch.
Developing preliminary statements and anticipated questions for each issue area can help make things easier during a real crisis. You will need to tailor messaging for each unique crisis when it happens, but having statements on hand that communicate your policies or approach is helpful and buys time to craft more in-depth messaging. For example, if there is a wildfire in your area, your preliminary statement could be, “We have mobilized our crisis response team and will be supplying additional information as soon as it is available." Work with Strategic Communications to develop your preliminary statements.
What will people want to know about that particular situation if it arises? During an actual crisis, the team will craft messages specific to the particular incident that tell people what they want to know. The recommendation is to keep to no more than three main messages. When you have developed your key messaging, share it with all stakeholders so they will share your preferred narrative when they engage with their networks.
Lastly, it’s helpful to conduct a communications debrief at the end of an issues management experience. Record what you learned and what you need to improve on in the future and adjust your plans accordingly.