Author: Kim Lehman

Kim Lehman

Today’s blog post is from Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR strategist. Kim has 25+ years of experience working collaboratively with businesses to build crisis communications plans and activate them.

You never know when your community will undergo a crisis that will create news coverage and public scrutiny. To deal with a man-made or natural disaster without damaging your community’s reputation, it’s imperative to have a well-thought-out crisis communications plan in place. The last thing you want to do in an emergency is to be scrambling to react. By having a crisis communications plan, you minimize chaos and create better communications with your external and internal audiences.

What is a crisis communications plan?

A crisis communications plan is simply the physical, concrete plan that outlines the responsibilities, protocols and key message points of an organization when reacting to a crisis situation. The plan will guide your community in sharing information with your key constituents during an emergency situation in a timely matter. Key constituents should include employees, residents, residents’ loved ones, traditional and social media, the community at large and other business partners. One common myth is that, if a community has an emergency preparedness plan, then the community is covered. On the contrary, a crisis communications plan goes far beyond an evacuation strategy.

Steps to creating an effective crisis plan

  1. Form a team

First, identify the key people that should be part of the crisis communications team, to include a core team and subgroups. For example, your core team would include the CEO, the executive director and the communications director. Then, create subgroups for each particular type of incident. For instance, if you had a hacking incident, the IT director would be part of your subgroup. For an employee crisis, the HR manager would be involved. By putting the right people in place, your organization can be prepared to deal with a crisis more effectively.

  1. Make an organizational chart

Create a chart, listing the core team and the subgroup team members. Then, compile the contact information for all team members. Identify a meeting place — whether that’s a physical conference room and/or a designated 1-800 conference call if all members of the team are not in one physical location.

  1. Create scenarios

Get in a room with the core team and talk about every scenario that could possibly happen at your community, from a flu outbreak to an active shooter or a power outage. Create an exhaustive list of these potential situations.

  1. Designate your spokespeople

For each scenario, choose a spokesperson and make sure that he or she is familiar with the talking points. The people you designate will depend on the scenario and also on their level of ability to communicate with the media. (Remember to always media-train your spokespeople!) Always choose someone who can articulate the message efficiently and help put the community in a positive light.   

  1. Identify communications channels

Outline all of the current ways you deliver your information to external and internal audiences. You will want to use different channels for different scenarios. For example, internal statements may be delivered via an intranet; press releases may be sent via email to journalists; and social media posts may be placed on social media channels.

  1. Create written statements

For each scenario, you should create an external statement to send to the media, an internal statement that you will send to employees and a potential Q&A. While you won’t have all of the details of a particular scenario, it’s nice to have the foundation of a statement so you aren’t rushing to write something during a crisis situation when stress levels are high. Be sure to keep the finished materials organized together — whether in a physical binder or in an electronic file.

  1. Update your plan regularly

Once you’ve got your plan in place, I recommend updating the plan every six months. Spokespeople, phone numbers and other details change frequently. Update your communications plan when you change the batteries in the smoke detectors and during daylight savings time.

Did this process sound time-consuming? It can be. Crisis communications planning takes a lot of effort, and many organizations don’t want to spend the time and resources to do it; however, the consequences of not having a plan in place far outweigh the time you spend on it. And there’s nothing like the feeling of knowing that, should a crisis occur, your community will be well prepared to deal with whatever comes your way.

If you’d like to talk more about crisis communications planning, please contact us!

 

Kim Lehman

Today’s blog post is from Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR strategist. Kim has 25+ years of experience working collaboratively with businesses to build crisis communications plans and activate them.

Every senior living community should have a complete, updated plan in place to deal with a potential man-made or natural crisis that could attract public scrutiny. But many do not. Here are some of the myths and misconceptions that could be holding your community back from developing an effective crisis plan.

  1. Nothing’s ever going to happen at our community.

You may think, “In 50 years, we’ve never had a serious crisis at our community, so we never will.” The fact is that you never know when an emergency is going to strike, so being prepared is crucial!

  1. An emergency preparedness plan is enough.

In my experience, communities often have an emergency preparedness plan in place, and they believe that is enough. I agree that knowing how to evacuate all of your residents in a crisis situation is very important, but that is just one part of the crisis communications plan. You will want to be ready to respond to every possible scenario that could happen at your community and prepare statements for not only your internal audiences, but for when the media potentially shows up at your front door.

A crisis plan will help you determine in advance how to speak to your employees, your residents and the media. It’s important that everyone who interacts with your community receives communication from you during a crisis communication.

  1. The CEO or executive director is always the right person to communicate with the media.

People default to the CEO or executive director during a crisis, but this might not always be the most appropriate individual for every situation. If it’s a financial situation, the best spokesperson could be the CFO. If it’s a hacking incident, it could be the IT director. If it’s an employee issue, it could be the human resources director. For many situations, it could be the communications director. My recommendation is to always put the best spokesperson out in front for each specific situation — someone who can articulate the message efficiently and correctly.

  1. Creating a crisis communications plan is too time-consuming.

Yes, it takes time and effort to create a crisis plan, but the alternative is that, if a crisis happens in your community, you’re caught unprepared. That kind of unpreparedness for a significant event has the potential to damage your company’s reputation and financial stability. It is better to invest time and resources up front than to suffer the damage of an unforeseen crisis.

Want some great tips for creating an effective crisis plan? Read my  blog post: “How to Create a Chaos-proof Crisis Plan.”

Kim Lehman

Today’s blog is contributed by Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR Strategist. Kim has more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing public relations campaigns for a diverse roster of clients, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ad Council, The Coca-Cola Company, Kohl’s, Johnson & Johnson, Messiah Lifeways, Presby’s Inspired Life and many more.

Kim has placed stories for her clients with top-tier and trade outlets, including Today, Good Morning America, Real Simple, The New York Times, O —The Oprah Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Business Journals, WSJ, USA Today, 50Plus Life, McKnight’s and Senior Living News, among others.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself an important question: Are you telling your organization’s story? Every organization has a story to tell — you just need to find the most impactful way to package it up and deliver it to a broader audience.

Here are some time-tested tips and strategies that have proven effective in telling the stories of my clients’ communities.

Tip 1: Contact the media when you don’t have anything to announce
It’s so important to build relationships with the industry and your local journalists so that when you do need to make an announcement or handle a crisis, you have already made a connection. It can be as easy as sending a quick email or making a phone call to introduce yourself as a resource for future stories.

Tip 2: Know the reporters that cover your market
Learn who covers senior living, then read their articles and follow them on social media. Drop the person a note and say, “I found your article about (TOPIC) interesting because…”  Take it a step forward and share his or her article on your social media channels. Everyone likes a good share!

Tip 3: Attend conferences
Many times, industry journalists are open to learning more about your organization. Book 15-minute one-on-one interviews with these reporters and offer something of value or uniqueness to them. It’s a great way to start building relationships.

Tip 4: Think local
Everyone wants stories in large dailies, but the hyper-local papers are just as important and most often are looking for content.

Tip 5: Spotlight the people that make your community unique
The residents and staff who live and work in your community are what make you truly different. Think about how you can highlight their special qualities in feature stories. Tell these stories through traditional media outlets and share them on your social media channels.

Tip 6: Tap into teachable moments
Look at events that happen throughout the year, such as Older Americans Month in May. Create an editorial calendar to make sure you don’t miss out on times of the year to pitch a story about your community.

Tip 7: Always ask, “What’s the visual?”
If you want coverage for an event, you have to think about what’s going to be visually interesting about it, especially if you want local TV stations to attend your event. Most newspapers and magazines are online too, so think about what the visual is for them, as well. They, too, are looking for video content and photography that can bring a story to life, be shareable and get clicks.

Tip 8: Connect with local universities
If you don’t have money in your budget to hire a professional photographer or videographer, communications departments can connect you with students looking to gain experience.

Tip 9: Think intergenerational
One of our clients hired high school students to help set up residents’ iPads and their mobile phones, download apps, etc. Bringing older adults and high school students together made for a great story!

Tip 10. Have a crisis plan
If there’s any type of incident at your community, it’s really important to have a strategic plan with a designated team in place to execute it. Stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming blog post.

Tip 11: Get social
As traditional media continues to downsize, social media is going to be even more important in your overall communications strategy. It’s important to have a cohesive plan among all of your teams and communities.

Tip 12: Position yourself as an expert
Journalists are always looking for unique stories and fresh perspectives that include new data and research findings. Op Ed pieces, proprietary research and participation in polls are all effective ways to position your community as an expert.

Tip 13: Ask, will the audience care?
Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. You may think something is really interesting, but not everything is newsworthy.

Tip 14: Take advantage of outside expertise
If you are struggling to uncover your story and tell that story in a meaningful way, then look to hire an agency with a PR strategist. They most likely will have existing relationships with the industry media as well as local market outlets that they can leverage on your behalf. They will be able to assist you with crafting key messaging, media training your spokespeople and pitching your stories to media outlets that matter most to your organization.

Tip 15: Have fun!
Telling your community’s story can be fun — whether you’re throwing an event or sharing a story about a resident who skydives. Incorporate these tips and you’ll be on your way to telling your unique story to the broader community.

Coming in a future Varsity blog: I will share my thoughts on crisis PR.