You will have a crisis so prepare in advance

By Brian Gray

Katherine Kerr Kabatzky leads the Crisis Communication workshop.

Photo by Jacqueline Fuller.

It’s not a question if your organization will have a crisis, but rather when it will happen. So best be prepared in advance to handle whatever comes.

That was the message of Katherine Kerr Kubatzky, APR, during a breakout session on crisis communications during the Religion Communications Council and Associated Church Press joint conference in Chicago.

Kerr Kubatzky, who owns Polaris Non-Profit Communications in Georgetown, TX, described a crisis as “anything that threatens the operations and /or reputation of an organization.” The crisis need not be a world-shaking event. On a local level it could be prompted by inappropriate behavior, vandalism, an accident or assault or by natural causes such as a flood, hurricane or fire.

Regardless of the origin, attendees were encouraged to develop a six-step communications plan that begins with assembling a response team and then gathering information, developing talking points, designating a spokesperson, identifying stakeholders and disseminating information.

Katherine Kerr Kabatzky interacts with participants during her Crisis Communication workshop.

Photo by Brian Gray.

The speaker worked through each of the steps to help listeners determine who should be on the response team. This team is not a permanent assignment. Membership will vary depending on the crisis. The team then helps determine a spokesperson and equips that person with three key speaking points. Those points should address what happened, express cooperation and concern, if appropriate, and set a date for the next update.

After expanding on each of the six points in a plan, Kerr Kubatzky introduced what she termed “the drill.” Each table of attendees drew a “crisis” from a bag and had time to work through a worksheet to determine the responses to each of the six steps in the communications plan. A table representative reported results to the entire audience.

Brian Gray, APR is the retired editor of Momentum Magazine.

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