Nobody knows what’s around the corner and we’re often too busy dealing with today’s issues to worry about it. However, if a major crisis occurred in your organisation would you be prepared to handle the media interest? A bit of forward planning wouldn’t go amiss would it? So, what to do when you get that panic phone call from your Head of IT telling you that you have a potential data breach? Firstly, it would be good to have all the facts at your fingertips, not just the rumours. Do you know the numbers involved? The time it actually happened? Who was affected? How long have you got before the information needs to be made public to protect your customers’ best interests? Not all of these things can be planned for but, having regular updates with the IT team and talking about the potential scenario for such an uber crisis can help when/if it happens for real.

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Having a draft ‘holding statement’ pre-prepared can help buy you valuable time in preparing a more formal statement and allow you to get the message out to your employees and your public more promptly. If you already have a PR Crisis team identified it makes it easier to call them together, rather than finding yourself having to do everything. However, nothing is more important than having a single key spokesperson from the relevant department to sign off statements and give appropriate answers to any external media enquiries. For a major crisis, it may be necessary to involve the highest available authority in the organisation such as the Managing Director or Chief Executive. Thinking ahead about prior media training for such individuals is always a wise investment, along with support and advice from a media professional.

Keeping abreast of what is being said on social media is vital and reviewing all available channels on a regular basis is good advice. The rapid growth of social media means that news can reach the official media outlets much quicker than in previous times. Evenings and weekends are often not monitored as comprehensively as daytime activity, so again forward planning by having 24/7 365 cover in place would pay dividends. Perhaps a formal press conference will be necessary? so identification of a local or regional venue(s) in advance may save valuable time on the day?

It is all too easy to focus on external activity and ignore your internal audiences. Well informed and well-motivated staff can be valuable advocates to counter the misinformation that might appear in external media. Although it is vital that they are briefed in advance to make sure that they know what to do if approached by a reporter. After the event, it is important to take stock and review how the crisis was handled. Would you do things differently? Is more media training needed? How was the social media handled? Would you use the same team or train up new people with a different range of skills? The key takeout can be found in the classic quotation ‘we don’t plan to fail, but we often fail to plan’.