Published: 21 March 2011

Crisis, what crisis?

Be prepared and charity communications crises will be a lot easier to deal with. Communications consultant Lisa Mangan offers her top tips on comms in a crisis

I’ve yet to work for a charity that hasn’t experienced some kind of crisis, and undoubtedly those who have faired best were the most prepared.

Here are some simple steps that all communications teams could put into a media crisis plan.

1. Decide whether it really is a crisis.

One of the most difficult steps in crisis management is making the decision that there is a crisis. Wait too late, and you may not be able to save the situation, but wade in too early and you may end up making things worse. Before you get to this point agree a definition amongst senior staff of what would constitute a crisis; refer to this in a live situation before going any further.

2. Pull together a crisis team.

Agree roles and responsibilities – you can add to or tweak this when you have a real crisis , but knowing who to talk to and whose diaries to coordinate when the proverbial hits the fan really helps.

3. Gather all the facts.

What do you know and what don’t you know? Do you share the same knowledge? Fill in any gaps.

4. Prepare a holding statement.

What's said to the media in the early stages is critical and could come back to haunt you if not properly managed. The media have been known to canabalise each other's stories so a mistruth can become truth very quickly by virtue of repetition.   

5. Put together a Q&A.

Cover all the questions you are likely to be asked, including those you most fear and agree your response.

6. Identify a spokesperson.

Make sure they are fully briefed and, if you can, put them in front of a media trainer. A couple of hours of Paxman-like grilling will really help prepare for the worst.

7. Agree a protocol for handling media enquiries.

It’s best if one person facilities, preferably someone who knows the right questions to ask the media and can advise on how the charity should respond (or not).

8. Decide what, how and at which point staff need to be told.

Communicate media handling protocol so no one other than the designated spokesperson or media handler is permitted to speak to the media.

9. Decide at which point your stakeholders and external audiences need to be told.

Agree on responsibility for who does what.

10. Share a core script/ Q&A.

If deemed appropriate so that everyone is on message.

11. Deliver information.

Make sure it is consistent, accurate, reassuring and don’t deviate from agreed lines.

12. Monitor the situation.

Circulate regular updates amongst the crisis team by a pre-agreed method. Respond as needed.Then sit back and watch as the crisis dissolves into nothing. Ok, so this part can’t be guaranteed but you’ll get a lot closer if you are prepared than if you fly by the seat of your pants.So, what are you waiting for….?


Lisa Mangan, media trainer and consultant, Freelance