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Posted on 02.01.2017

Calm in the Storm: Weathering a Communications Crisis

For the novice and veteran communicator alike, managing a communications crisis can be chaotic and overwhelming. But regardless of your level of experience, or what industry you’re in, there are a few best practices you can utilize to ensure you weather the storm with calm.

Dust off the old binder. Hospitals are required to have an emergency preparedness plan under federal law and by numerous accrediting agencies, including the Joint Commission. While an emergency preparedness plan is much more tactical than a crisis communications plan, they often go hand and hand. And sometimes the crisis communications plan can go months and years without seeing the sun. It’s important to review those plans at least quarterly to ensure important information, like how to contact the CEO after hours or who gathers to emergency team and in what conference room, is up to date.

Have a plan in the first place. This may sound simple, but, as mentioned above, hospitals are required to have a plan. Other businesses and organizations – not so much. A plan helps establish a mutually agreed upon process or course of action should an emergency arise and positions leaders to put the plan in action immediately without wasting precious time that could be spent communicating to employees, stakeholders, community members and media (when needed).

Prepare. Practice. Prepare. Practice. It sounds like simple advice, but preparing for a future crisis can sometimes be hard to jam into an already packed schedule. Whether you’re a designated public information officer, focusing strictly on media relations, or a marketing director doing double duty during a crisis, being able to run through a mock drill or even walk through scenarios in a war room can mean all the difference in how you respond when your organization is staring down a crisis.

Skip the third cup of Starbucks. It’s important to slow down during the early hours of a crisis. This can help ensure you have a good grasp of the situation, time to connect with your organization’s leaders and time to gather information you’ll need to answer the increasing number of questions. And if you can, skip the fourth and fifth cup of coffee. While you most likely will be working long hours, coffee can increase adrenaline, followed by a crash of fatigue. Instead, try to hydrate with water.

Lean on leadership. And really, any member of your executive team who may provide insight or guidance, or who may be required to take action during an emergency situation. Examples include staying in close contact with your legal team to ensure HIPAA regulations are not violated when releasing information about victims of a bus crash, or asking the Chief Medical Officer of your hospital to provide information to the media about a certain disease or epidemic.

Don’t forget the post-mortem. That’s not the best word to describe it, but it’s important to find a time following an emergency situation to decompress with your team and identify best and worst practices. This may be a couple of days following an incident, or it could be months, and is often led by a member of the communications team or your public relations partner. Either way it’s important to identify areas of excellence and improvement and to then adjust your crisis communications plan to be better prepared in the future.

Amanda Anderson is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Amanda’s blogs here. Connect with Amanda at amanda@lovell.com

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