D.C. Chapter explores crisis communication tools

By Maya Boddie
Intern, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Katherine Kerr at the October 2016 meeting of the D.C. Chapter

Every communications expert knows that, at some point, a crisis can and will occur. What every communications expert does not know, is how to properly respond. Recovering journalist Katherine Kerr shared her experience and insights on crisis communications to help any professional prepare for the worst.

In speaking to D.C. chapter of the Religion Communicators Council on October 12, Kerr discussed the difference between “good and bad” handling of a crisis. Kerr has seen many crises in her day, both as a reporter for daily newspapers and as a nonprofit professional for the past 15 years.

According to the Institute of PR, crises can create three related threats: public safety, financial loss, and reputation loss. Kerr’s presentation was titled Crisis Communications: Not “If,” But “When?” which reviewed 6 steps needed in a crisis communications plan to face potential threats.

Small group discussion on crisis communication

  1. Gather your crisis team
    • Think carefully about each person’s role and responsibility, keeping in mind that leadership could sometimes be the cause of the crisis.
  2. Gather information (5 W’s and H)
    • Who is involved? Impacted? Responsible?
    • What happened?
    • When did it happen? When did you know?
    • Where did it happen?
    • Why did it happen?
    • How do I keep it from happening again?
  3. Develop talking points
    • Express condolences, if appropriate
    • Set a time for next update
    • Never respond to media with “no comment.” There are ways to say you have nothing to add while gathering information without using those two words. \
  4. Designate a spokesperson
    • Who is the best person to speak for the agency?
    • Practice talking points
    • Be human and humane
  5. Identify stakeholders
    • Who needs to know?
    • Internal (staff, board members, faith community, etc.)
    • External (neighbors, media, public only if it becomes a public situation)
  6. Disseminate the information
    • Prioritize stakeholders
    • Identify best channels for each group
    • Maintain consistent message
    • Plan for updates

As part of the workshop, attendees split into groups to analyze various crises scenarios taken from the headlines or from Kerr’s own experiences working with nonprofits. Groups brainstormed the various ways in which each crisis could be approached, using a worksheet outlining the six steps. While it's impossible to make a detailed plan for every potential crisis, participants learned key ways to approach a situation and mitigate the harm.

 
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