Bulletin / Crisis Communications -...

Crisis Communications - Do You Have a Team?

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol, Training Director, FBCI, FEPS

Charlie lists his suggestions for organising your incident management to include communications roles, and what that may look like.

I thought I would leave events in Ukraine to the newspapers and TV this week, and talk about crisis communications teams. Over the last six months, we have been conducting lots of exercises, cyber being one of the main scenarios, but we have also had protestors, GDPR issues, fires, acid leaks and extreme weather. One of the learning points from almost every exercise has been the lack of communications staff.

Most organisations when they deploy their crisis management team, have at least one communication person included within the team. They very quickly become overwhelmed by the number of tasks they have to perform simultaneously. The majority of organisations recognise the importance of communication as an element of their response, so they want their communications person to play a full role in putting forward their ideas into team meetings, and developing a communications response strategy, and communication materials. At the same time as they are doing all of the above, they are also required to write press statements! During our exercises we use a media and a social media simulator, the person heading up communications has to monitor these two channels and report updates to the team. They are expected to do all these tasks simultaneously.

We have suggested in numerous post-exercise reports that people in communications need to bring along a team of people to the exercise, and have them on call for real events. Yesterday, Jamie and I conducted a crisis communications exercise. When I suggested that the client should bring along the whole team, they replied that their communications team only consisted of two people. When there is only a small communications team, we suggest that the company trains up more people who can perform non-specialist communication roles. Tasks such as media and social media monitoring don’t need years of experience to carry out.

Currently, I am working with a team of people to update the Business Continuity Institutes ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ for 2022. Within the crisis communicationS section, I have suggested that the following roles need to be performed to enable an organisation to fully respond to the communications element of an incident. Also, provide either the strategic/crisis team or the tactical team with situational awareness.

These are the roles I suggest need to be carried out. Not every task needs a dedicated person to carry it out, but all the tasks should be carried out. The content and complexity of the communications plan and the number of people within the communications team will be dependent on the size of the organisation, its threats, regulatory requirements, risks, the size and impact of possible disruptions.

Tasks for the communications team could include:

1. Designating a communications professional to sit in as part of the strategic/crisis team or the tactical team. This is usually the most senior communications person within the organisation.

2. There may be a role for someone to be a runner/liaison between the communications person on the incident team and the communications team. This role could be important, then communications are written by the wider communications team and need to go to the incident team to be signed off.

3. Developing internal and external communications. Ensuring that these communications are cascaded throughout the organisation to ensure that all parts of the organisation are using the same communications scripts and lines to take.

4. Media monitoring, liaison and facilitation. Here there may be a dedicated media phone number, which needs to have a person answering it, for the media to call in for information about the incident.

5. Updating the website.

6. Developing materials and then keeping them updated, such as questions and answers which can be used as scripts for customer-facing staff and those in call centres.

7. Social media monitoring and engagement.

8. Internal communications facilitation, liaison, feedback and listening.

9. Liaison with technical specialists where technical communications or advice has to be given externally to the organisation.

10. External communications, including liaison with those who have communications roles at the tactical and operational level.

11. Collating sentiment and attitudes across all platforms, assessing the penetration and compliance with messaging and presenting these findings regularly to the strategic team. They may then adjust their strategy in light of the findings.

12. Preparing and briefing the designated spokesperson(s).

13. The team may also contact external communications professionals and crisis communications advisors.

Where people have communications roles, they should be trained in their role and have the opportunity to practise as part of their organisation's exercise programme.

You may be interested in our new ‘Crisis Comms & Public Relations after a Cyber Security Incident’ course which could ensure that your staff have the skills and knowledge to manage the response to a cyber incident.

You might be interested in the following stories

The Case Against Situational Crisis Communication Theory

How communication technology helps meet the duty of care

Using dark websites for crisis communication - three case studies: Norsk Hydro, Boeing and Ethiopian Air

You may be interested in the following course

Crisis Comms & Public Relations after a Cyber Security Incident course

Sign-up to our newsletter

We value your privacy

We use cookies to enhance your browsing experience, serve personalised ads and understand how our website is used. By clicking "Accept All", you consent to our use of cookies. Our cookie policy