Communications are always important, but they are especially critical in a crisis. Ernest DelBuono, senior vice president at Levick, a strategic communications firm, provided tips on crisis communications to attendees of the recent ASIS 23rd New York City Security Conference and Expo. DelBuono stressed the need for the affected organization to try to drive the story because if it does not, then those who might be critical of the organization will have more opportunity to give the story’s narrative their own spin.
One of the other issues DelBuono addressed was where to position the media who come on site to cover the incident. Though management’s first instinct may be to designate a distant location for reporters to keep them out of the way, DelBuono advised against that because the reporters will likely leave that spot anyway to get a better shot. DelBuono recommended setting up a spot for the media at the facility. Security must secure the building from the media but the organization must provide the media a favorable location with visuals, he said.
DelBuono recommended that organizations have an executive leadership team that develops an overarching strategy for the company, and a crisis management team; crisis communications will be part of these two teams. Teams should include not only the corporate public relations or media departments but also other departments such as security, human resources, and legal. Executives who are involved in the strategic concerns for the company should obviously be part of these efforts. The roles for each member of the team should be spelled out in writing.
Communications should not be left until an incident occurs. There should be a “holding statement” ready to go for any incident; the details can be filled in when something happens. The message would include acknowledging the incident and stating that the company is investigating. The statement can mention that the details will be provided as information is gathered. The statement should not only include what the company is doing about the situation, but it can also include facts such as the company’s record of caring for employees or other positive attributes about the company’s responsibility.
It is important that any information about an incident be put out in language that is easily understood and crafted to suit the intended audience. For example, DelBuono said you might not want the legal department to be in charge of crafting the message, because it might turn into a legal document.