Five Questions about Media Interview and Crisis Communication Training
Craig Sundstrom is Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Innogy Renewables US, which is based in Chicago.
What is Innogy and what do you do as the government affairs lead for the North America affiliate of the global company?
Innogy is a German energy company with renewable, network and retail businesses in markets around the globe. Innogy Renewables US launched in late 2016 to develop, own, and operate utility-scale renewable energy projects in the United States.
As director of government and regulatory affairs for the business, l lead the tracking and shaping of legislative and regulatory developments at the federal and state levels that impact Innogy’s US renewable projects. This work requires me to coordinate internal teams, from senior leadership to project development to finance, to understand which matters of public policy can impact the portfolio, craft strategies to address legislative concerns, advocate for the business with decision-makers, and ultimately support the company’s commercial goals.
You and other members of Innogy’s senior leadership team in the U.S. recently participated in on-camera media interview and crisis communication training. How would you describe the value of the training and what did you find most useful?
My colleagues and I regularly work with landowners, public officials, people interested in renewable energy, as well as other external stakeholders. As leaders in a company and industry that is inherently public facing, we place a high value on media interview and crisis communication training.
It was useful to expose the team to realistic, simulated situations we could encounter in our daily work, and jointly explore tactics for reacting in real-time. The session provided constructive feedback in a safe setting, which really is the best way to practice and improve media interview and crisis communication skills.
How important is it that designated spokespersons receive media interview and crisis communication training and how frequently should these trainings be conducted?
I think recurring and regular training is a critical tool in the media interview and crisis communication toolbox. Knowing why, when, and how to respond to requests from the media and how to effectively communicate with internal and external stakeholders during a crisis are important skills. And, it obviously takes practice to develop these skills.
The media interview and crisis communication training our managers participate in provides the necessary theoretical knowledge and opportunity to practice as a team in a setting that is conducive to improvement and growth. Especially designated spokespersons and other colleagues who often work with external stakeholders should practice these skills at least once a year.
Was it helpful that the on-camera media interview and crisis communication training you participated in also covered interview preparation steps and interview techniques used by reporters?
Absolutely. Receiving tips concerning media interview preparation and reporters' interview techniques makes a big difference. It makes you feel more confortable, because you can see right away that this information will help you down the road.
We also found it very helpful that C4CS® trainers have deep experience in journalism, which definitely added immediate value to our team’s training. A number of participants commented that the interview portion felt like we were actually on-air. It is really valuable to experience that kind of situation in a controlled environment instead of in response to an actual crisis.
Is participating in scenario-based crisis communication training a must in terms of increasing the level of organizational crisis readiness and preparing for effective communication with internal and external stakeholders in times of crisis?
Yes. Scenario-based crisis communication training has helped us assess both the opportunities and gaps in our internal readiness. As a global company with a relatively new business in the United States, there are a number of components to our public affairs process that we do quite well and a number that could be improved for the realities of the U.S. market.
Responding to a crisis in the training setting has helped us think about our processes with excellent real-time feedback from our colleagues and trainers. Our team feels strongly that the recurring training is incredibly valuable.
10 Tips to Ensure Crisis Readiness in the 21st Century
Even the casual observer will arrive at the conclusion that in 2019, adversity affects organizations daily no matter their size, geographical footprint, or mission. We have only to look at the news headlines regarding crises of varying types and magnitude that are happening in real time around the globe. Indeed, now more than ever, it is not a matter of “if” an organization will experience a crisis. It is a matter of “when,” “where,” “how” and “why” one will occur and what the impact will be.
Is your organization ready to protect brand equity, reputation and the bottom line in the face of a crisis? This could for instance be an accident, cyberattack, damaging social media content, natural disaster, criminal conduct, or product failure. The list of potential crisis scenarios is almost endless.
Since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, many companies in the United States and beyond have developed crisis management and business continuity plans aimed at keeping the doors open in the event of terrorism or weather-related incidents. However, a lot of companies remain unprepared to manage the broad spectrum of crises that could occur. Thorough planning is crucial for any company and its employees to effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover and learn from crises that jeopardize organizational success.
Here are 10 tips for optimizing crisis readiness.
- Safeguard reputation: Protecting your organization’s reputation must be the foundation of your crisis management approach. Embrace your value proposition and culture, and ensure that it is front and center in your strategy. Your mission, core values and tenets for success should be the consistent threads of all crisis readiness and crisis response related activities.
- Know your stakeholders: Identify all stakeholders with whom your organization interacts internally and externally, long before crisis hits. Be mindful not to overlook any stakeholder’s attitudes, expectations, actions, and needs, particularly when it comes to communications during and following a sudden or smoldering crisis.
- Plan your work, work your plan: There are several key components of a well-crafted crisis management plan, as well as the plans feeding into it, that address decision making, operations, and communications. Plans should not be lengthy tomes. They must be functional and accessible. Ensure that employees understand how to access and use the plan, and train them well on how to follow the outlined processes and procedures.
- Designate crisis response team members: Form a team of managers representing relevant functional areas including operations, human resources, communications, legal, finance, etc. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you may need to leverage all hands on deck. Make sure everyone has a seat at the table and clearly define who fills the roles of team leader, standing and back-up members, and ad hoc members.
- Enable effective crisis leadership: As many accomplished executives have learned the hard way, leading in times of crisis is different from leading a company day-to-day. The stakes are often much higher and previously unfamiliar levels of stress are common during a crisis. However, catering to stakeholder needs and fostering trust while engaging in ethical, fact-based and timely decision-making and communication are more important than ever.
- Develop categories, triggers and scenarios: An effective crisis management plan ties together business continuity, emergency management, and disaster recovery efforts and explains situations and triggers for plan execution. Organize the plan so that policies, procedures and responsibilities are easily referenced by crisis category and ensure that scenario planning follows a holistic approach to cover all relevant types of crises.
- Live the plan: It is not enough to write a plan and put it on the shelf. Plans must be reviewed on a regular basis and sometimes updated in real time. Something as simple as taking a news headline and discussing how the team might respond can be an effective tool. Every hypothetical situation can be an opportunity to detect vulnerabilities and enhance the plan.
- Prioritize recurring training: Cultivate a healthy learning environment through regularly scheduled training, including tabletop crisis exercises, live and semi-live crisis drills, and scenario-based crisis communication training. This will enable team members to correctly implement response plans and procedures, develop important skills, and stay sharp. Formally establishing a company-wide crisis training schedule provides strong support for this process.
- Implement crisis notification and 24/7 internet and media monitoring: An effective crisis response hinges on knowing that a crisis is occurring; understanding corresponding facts, impacts and stakeholder responses; and communicating critical information to the designated internal and external stakeholders. As such, automated crisis notification and 24/7 internet and media monitoring are key components of any comprehensive crisis response strategy.
- Evaluate and seize opportunities: Minimizing the negative impact of future crises is, of course, a top priority. It is therefore essential to carefully evaluate all crisis response activities during the post crisis phase. Leaders should encourage comprehensive analysis of outcomes, champion resulting organizational learning, and drive necessary change in order to seize opportunities for optimizing crisis readiness.
If your phone rings tomorrow and you are suddenly confronted with a crisis, are you and your colleagues prepared to handle it? What steps will you take to mitigate the damage to your organization? Do you and your colleagues know who is responsible for which crisis response related activity? And how comfortable are you that the organization can answer tough questions from the media and withstand potentially negative publicity?
Wherever your company is along the crisis readiness path, the planning, testing and training that occurs today will be invaluable for ensuring crisis readiness and overcoming adversity when crisis strikes.
This article was written by C4CS® President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt and published by the Risk and Resilience HUB earlier this year. It is available on the Risk and Resilience HUB website by clicking on this link.
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Food For Thought
“A lie gets halfway around the world
before the truth has a chance to get on its pants.”