Crisis - what crisis?

While PR and marketing involves telling stories, sometimes it means stopping stories in their tracks. This is commonly known as Crisis PR and something for which all schools should have a plan.

When a media title gets hold of a story that might show your school in a bad light, it is time to action your Crisis Plan. This is usually reactive and comes off the back of a journalist contacting your school for an interview, information or comment.

At Glove, we work closely with all our clients to have a system in place - and we have had to action that system on a number of occasions, to ensure a balanced piece of coverage does include a client’s stance on a matter.

In an educational environment, the story can often come from a family or carer complaining about a school policy. Or it could be that the journalist wants to comment on some less than favourable Ofsted comments. In many instances they have picked something up on social media. It could even be that a crime has been committed.

There are a series of steps to have to hand so that you are ready to deal with the crisis when it occurs.

1) Anticipate
This is not always possible but in the instances where it is (Ofsted or exam results, for example), it is wise to have a statement ready. If you can’t anticipate it then you will know about the situation when you get the call or email from the media.  

When you do get the call:
2) Advise internally
Ensure your management staff are advised and that the school staff all know to not respond to any media queries but to pass to the person in charge (your PR company, your principal etc.).

3) Get all information
Get as much information as you can from the journalist:
What do they know
What are they planning to run and when
When do they need information by
What are they hoping for (filming, statement etc.)

4) Prepare response
You will need to act quickly, if you haven’t been able to anticipate this situation. ‘No Comment’ never looks good. Don’t be defensive in tone, simply address the whole issue while communicating the school key messages and reassuring as much as possible. Use few sentences - one is ideal, as the media is less likely to edit parts out. If you do choose to be interviewed (a written statement is recommended), ensure your subject has all the facts, only does a pre-record and knows the questions beforehand. 

5) Consider other communications
Before any media coverage appears, you may need to prepare parents and students for the forthcoming coverage. A timely letter in response to it will help to reassure your key audience.

The key with Crisis PR is to stay calm. The old adage about tomorrow’s chip paper still stands, even in this digital age. The media moves on. Social media, however, may fan the flames a little longer, so it is good to keep an eye on the conversation, although getting into responses on social media comments will not usually help. Remain dignified and simply reiterate the approved statement to any queries.   

John BrennanComment