This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
US research has found, surprisingly, that the most important sources of news during a crisis came from government – either politicians or employees of regulatory agencies. This finding points to the need to brief government stakeholders as a pressing priority during a crisis, preferably as part of ongoing communication programs.
Government at various levels, including regulatory bodies, becomes involved with crises. It is therefore essential that preparation is conducted ahead of any crisis about the compliance, regulatory or investigative role of government in the range of possible crises your organization may confront.
An effective plan for government communication during a crisis is:
Develop partner relationships beforehand
A partner is any organization with a role in aiding the response, including regulatory bodies. Partner relationships should be developed ahead of any crises so there is a solid foundation for well-coordinated work through each crisis. Typical partners may be the police and fire and ambulance emergency service units, State emergency services, utilities, and health and medical authorities, as well as entities with safety regulatory responsibilities.
In cases where your organization is geographically dispersed, the relationships should be developed at each location of operations, where the contact telephone number and email address for every nominated contact person in the partner organization should be documented and updated every three months.
Each potential partner would play a specific role during a crisis, which should be determined beforehand by agreement with them or should be developed in the early stages of the crisis. Each partner should nominate its representative who has the authority to make decisions during the crisis.
A plan should be drafted for partner communication during a crisis (eg, email alerts, faxes, conference calls) to which everyone has agreed.
Despite every good intention to show partners a preview of media releases, it may not be possible to do so. Some aspects may be time-sensitive, and the crisis communication head may decide not to share this information due to the possibility or likelihood of a leak or premature public reference to the information by partners – not necessarily intentionally.
Such leaks would most likely be made by people other than the contact person – people who may not be aware of the sensitive nature of the information or may be too rushed to remember. At the least, partners should be supplied with information at the same time as the media.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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