Crisis Communications Toolkit for Parishes and Schools. November 2013

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1 Crisis Communications Toolkit for Parishes and Schools November 2013

2 Purpose To help parish and school leaders managing an issue or crisis situation communicate with stakeholders in a manner that is effective, is consistent with the interests of everyone involved and reflects our shared Catholic values. Communication Crisis Defined A communications crisis exists when an event occurs or an issue arises that: Significantly impacts parish and/or school stakeholders in a negative way Threatens the reputation of the parish and/or school Both A communications crisis in a parish or school is likely to occur in one of three categories: Personnel issue Criminal/Moral Issue On-site Emergency Stakeholders Defined Stakeholders are anyone inside or outside the parish and/or school who might be impacted by a crisis event or issue. Stakeholders may include: Parishioners Parish administrators and staff School administrators and staff Students and their families Neighbors The community Local officials Archdiocesan officials Other religious leaders Page 2 of 11

3 Fundamentals of Crisis Communication Five Phases of a Communication Crisis 1. Instant Info: Stakeholders want to know who, what, when and where 2. Analysis: Stakeholders want to know how and why 3. Blame: Stakeholders assign responsibility 4. Resolution: Questions have been answered; damage is being addressed 5. Follow-up: Anniversaries, ongoing developments and other events Communicate Quickly Demonstrate Empathy for Victims Influence the Conversation Demonstrate Transparency Demonstrate Consistency Focus on Opportunities Note: Delaying the progression from phases one to four prolongs the crisis. News travels fast. Be prepared to communicate with stakeholders quickly, to remain in front of the story. You can t turn the clock back and undo what s been done, so concentrate on limiting damage and beginning recovery. Express your concern and compassion for anyone harmed first. Saying you re sorry that people have been harmed is not the same thing as saying you caused the harm. All stakeholders should get the news from you. Make the news media the last to know. Demonstrate that you want to be as open, honest and cooperative as possible. Turn taking the blame into taking responsibility for helping victims and your organization recover. Ensure that: All stakeholders get the same information at the same time Spokespeople are saying the same things Statements are consistent over time, unless facts change To tell your side of the story, set the record straight, demonstrate empathy, educate about your organization, and build a reputation for openness and responsibility. Page 3 of 11

4 Step-by-Step Crisis Communications 1. First Steps Establish a command post Notify the Archdiocesan Communications Office at Set up three information boards o What you know o What questions remain o How you are responding Assemble your team Identify your stakeholder audiences Determine who will communicate with each stakeholder audience and how 2. Develop a Holding Statement Include: Only what you know at the moment no speculation or wishful thinking Empathy for any victims and what you re doing to help them What you re doing to determine the cause When you plan to update your statement Where stakeholders can go for more information Use this holding statement to communicate with stakeholders who need to know immediately and to respond to initial inquiries. The sooner you have a holding statement, the better. 3. Track Facts Gather and communicate information about what you re doing to help victims and determine the cause Make one person responsible for posting and updating information on your three boards Revise and distribute your holding statement as appropriate Preface your statements with words that acknowledge uncertainty: o We don t all the facts yet, but based on what we know now o This is an evolving situation, but based on what we know now o Facts may change, but as of now we can say 4. Monitor Social Media Twitter, Facebook, YouTube Correct inaccuracies Share links to your information 5. Develop Messages Power Bottom Line: What you want the audience to be thinking at the end of your communication Main Messages: The three (or so) messages that you need to communicate to the audience to help Page 4 of 11

5 them reach your Power Bottom Line Include in your messages what stakeholders need to know, how you want them to feel, and anything they can or should do as a result of what they now know and feel Customize the messages for individual stakeholder audiences 6. Anticipate Questions Think of questions as opportunities to communicate your messages Use your Power Bottom Line to address: o The first what s going on? question o The last anything else? question Look for opportunities to answer who, what, when, where, how and why questions with one or more of your messages Anticipate tough, unwelcome or surprise questions 7. Communicate Proactively Communicate messages to stakeholder audiences as simultaneously as possible Conduct media interviews as they arise 8. Conduct Media Interviews Set the right tone: Demonstrate concern for victims and what you re doing to help them recover Never say no comment Never go off the record Don t defend failed policies Don t promote irrelevant positives Be factual: Don t withhold important, relevant information Be honest Stick to what you know don t speculate Acknowledge uncertainty Frame answers in your terms: Because the safety of students is our number one priority Influence the interview: Include messages in answers Use bridging, pivoting, hooking and deferring Don t become rattled or defensive Don t comment on things you haven t seen, address hypothetical situations, speculate or leave incorrect summary statements unchallenged 9. Hold a News Conference When: Immediacy is vital Reporters are calling non-stop You need to set the record straight Page 5 of 11

6 Come prepared with: Copies of your statement FAQ(s) Fact sheet(s) Bios of spokespeople How to conduct: Have a moderator introduce the spokespeople and cut off questioning when appropriate Have the main spokesperson make a short, factual statement Spokespeople should hand off questions to others as necessary Keep it short a half-hour to 45 minutes is plenty Leave time for one-on-one interviews afterwards Page 6 of 11

7 Crisis Scenario Plan: Personnel Issue Examples An employee or volunteer is dismissed An employee or volunteer resigns unexpectedly A group of parishioners or parents conducts an organized campaign against an employee or volunteer An employee or volunteer dies unexpectedly An employee or volunteer is arrested for something not directly related to their responsibilities at Sample Scenario the parish or school (ie: DUI, drug possession, domestic violence, etc.) The principal of the parish school is immediately dismissed after the school board discovers that the principal s academic credentials and experience were fabricated. Sample Communication Objectives Assure stakeholders that the school is committed to having an excellent staff Assure stakeholders that the quality education at the school will not be affected Demonstrate that the school respects the privacy of its employees Sample Holding Statement Effective today, Jane Doe has been removed as principal of St. Mary s Parish School. Because this is an employment issue, it would be inappropriate to discuss details, however I can tell you that a search will be launched shortly to find a replacement who can help the school maintain its reputation for providing a quality, valued-based education to all students. Updates on this situation will be available on the parish website. Sample Messages Power Bottom Line: The school delivers a high-quality, values-based education to students and this situation will not change that. Message #1: Consistent with our mission to give every student a high-quality, values-based education, we believe a change in leadership is in order at this time. Message #2: Because we respect the privacy of our employees, we will not discuss details of the dismissal. Message #3: We are confident our search will identify the best person to continue to build on our school s tradition of providing students in the highest-quality, values-based education. Sample Anticipated Questions Why was the principal dismissed? Was the principal dismissed for engaging in illegal or improper conduct? What s been the reaction of staff? Students? Parents? How does this impact school operations? Who made the decision? How was it made? Has an interim principal been named? Page 7 of 11

8 What s the replacement process? Crisis Scenario Plan: Criminal / Moral Issue Examples Inappropriate materials are found on an employee s computer Embezzlement of parish or school funds is suspected and an investigation is imminent Accusations of inappropriate behavior are made against an employee or volunteer An employee or volunteer is arrested for something that is directly related to their responsibilities at the parish or school (ie: child pornography, sexual assault, embezzlement, etc.) Sample Scenario The parish business manager is arrested after child pornography is found on his work computer. Sample Communication Objectives Make it clear that the parish condemns and will not tolerate the alleged behavior Demonstrate the parish is cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities Position the parish as committed to the safety of kids Sample Holding Statement An employee of the parish has been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, after being arrested on suspicion of having child pornography on a parish computer. If the allegation is true, we condemn this behavior in the strongest possible terms. We are cooperating fully with authorities in their investigation to ensure that the safety of anyone in the parish has not been compromised. As information about this unfortunate situation becomes available, we will post it on our parish website. Sample Messages Power Bottom Line: Parish children are safe. Message #1: If the allegations are true, we are outraged that someone in our midst would engage in this kind of immoral and criminal behavior, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Message #2: We are cooperating with law enforcement authorities as they investigate these allegations and will conduct our own investigation to determine how we can prevent this from happening again. Message #3: We have no reason to believe the safety of anyone at the parish or school has been compromised by this individual, but we are communicating with parish and school staff, parishioners and others to confirm that. Sample Anticipated Questions Why weren t safeguards in place to prevent this? Did anyone conduct a background check on this individual? How do you know the safety of kids in the parish and school wasn t compromised? Your reaction? Reactions of staff, parishioners? Doesn t this prove the Catholic Church isn t safe for kids? Can you guarantee this won t happen again? Page 8 of 11

9 Crisis Scenario Plan: On-site Emergency Examples A fire that harms (or threatens to harm) people, damages facilities Flooding due to burst water pipes that damages facilities An outbreak (or threat of an outbreak) of a communicable illness A remodeling crew discovers asbestos in the building Sample Scenario A fire that started overnight in the basement significantly damages the church. Sample Communication Objectives Comfort parishioners who may be grieving over damage to the church building, cherished relics, etc. Assure parishioners that the church will be rebuilt Inform parishioners about plans to conduct Masses while the rebuilding is underway Sample Holding Statement A fire inflicted significant damage to the church and administrative offices overnight. We can all be thankful that no one was injured. As a result of the fire, the church is closed while the damage is assessed and repairs are made. Plans are being developed to celebrate Masses at another location in the community until the church can be restored. As additional information becomes available, we ll post it on the parish website. In the coming days, we ll come together as a parish to heal and plan for the future. Sample Messages Power Bottom Line: The parish will survive this tragic occurrence. Message #1: While the building and offices were severely damaged, parishioners will be happy to know that no one was injured and nothing irreplaceable was lost in the fire. Message #2: We are cooperating with fire department authorities to determine how the fire started and how we can prevent this from happening again. Message #3: Parishioners can feel confident that we will be able to restore the church and continue to function as a parish with as few disruptions as possible, given the circumstances. Sample Anticipated Questions What could have started the fire? Could this have happened during Mass or the workday when people might have been injured? Will insurance cover the damage? What if the church can t be restored and must be rebuilt? Where will Mass be celebrated? Will Mass times change? What financial impact will this have on the parish? Will I be asked to contribute more? Page 9 of 11

10 Conducting Effective News Media Interview Know what makes news Develop the messages you d most like to get into the story Reporters are more interested in stories that: Are new and different Are important to many people Are impactful to people s families, health, safety, finances, jobs, schools, communities, etc. Are controversial Touch people s emotions Involve compelling visuals Reflect trends or are backed by research Are surprising or counterintuitive Involve celebrities, experts, victims, heroes or regular people Happen close to home or reflect a local angle on something that happened somewhere else Are timely Power Bottom Line Three (or so) main messages Messages include: o Know Tell people only what people need to know to reach your power bottom line, not everything you know o Feel Use words to give people clues about how they should feel ( Parishioners will be relieved to learn that I m happy to report that ) o Do Give people something they can do as a result of what they now know and feel an actionable step that will help cement your power bottom line Anticipate questions Plan to use your power bottom line to respond to the first question, which is often along the lines of What s this all about? Likewise, use your Power Bottom Line to respond to the last question, which is often along the lines of Is there anything else you wanted to add? Think of as many who, what, when, where, how and why questions as possible. Look for ways to answer questions with your messages. Anticipate any tough, unwelcome or surprise questions you may be asked. Manage reporters questions Bridge to a message with a transition: Short answer/transition/message Q: Were students placed in an unsafe environment? Page 10 of 11

11 A: That s unclear. What s critical at this juncture is the health and wellbeing of those injured. To that end we re Pivot to a message on the same subject without a transition: Indirect answer without transition Q: Were students placed in an unsafe environment? A: Safety is of paramount importance to our organization. We just completed a study of school safety that found that Hook a message onto your answer Short answer/transition/additional information Q: Were students placed in an unsafe environment? A: We have no reason to believe there were safety issues. That s because we just completed a study of school safety that found that Defer Q: Were students placed in an unsafe environment? A: I m not the right person to make that judgment, but I can tell you that this school has one of the higher safety records in the state. During an interview Smile appropriately Keep gestures under control Look at the reporter, not the camera It s okay to start over Avoid the silent treatment After an interview Never ask to review, edit or approve Let communications pros handle mistakes Page 11 of 11

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