What is your role at Highmark and which career path did you take to get there?
I serve as the Director of Business Resiliency. In that role, my team and I are responsible for the Emergency Response, Business Continuity, and IT Disaster Recovery processes across the enterprise.
My educational background is in Accounting and Management Information Systems. I worked in Computer Operations and Technical Support, where I was first exposed to the field of Information Security. At that time, Security and IT Disaster Recovery, which was the forerunner to modern Business Resiliency, were closely intertwined. In addition to education and work experience, I have always been active professionally, including with the Three Rivers Contingency Planning Association, which has exposed me to outstanding professionals and leading practices.
How do you define emergency communications and what are critical components of a thorough emergency communications strategy?
Any message that needs to be communicated in an accurate and timely manner could be considered emergency communication. As with any communications, it is important to know your audience. Many stakeholders are obvious, but others are not. You should brainstorm with your team for a complete list long before an emergency situation occurs.
The key elements of an emergency communications strategy are qualified communications professionals, the best tools you can afford, and lots of practice.
What types of crisis notification solutions and tools are you familiar with and which one do you prefer?
There are several mass notification products that I have used or am familiar with. You should choose one that is independent of your internal IT infrastructure because the emergency may be that your network is down. Also, make sure that your product has multiple ways to communicate - including e-mail, phone, and SMS - and that it can make use of templates. You do not want to be in 'composition mode' in the middle of a crisis.
Plus, I have always been somewhat risk averse and would hence take the tried and true over the up and coming. Industry researchers such as Forester and Gartner are a good source concerning finding out who the leaders are.
In what ways has the importance of social media in crisis management increased in recent years?
Social media has dramatically compressed the time that an organization now has to respond to its stakeholders in a crisis. If you delay telling your story, others will tell it for you which can make matters far worse.
You should also make sure that the communications members of your Emergency Response Team monitor social media around the clock, and can jump in quickly when disruptions occur.
Do you prefer table-top exercises over crisis simulation exercises?
Table-top exercises are not as realistic as simulations, but in most cases they are more inclusive. Of course, when it comes to practicing, the more the merrier.
Working with the News Media in Times of Crisis
Crises demand that management make and communicate important decisions under difficult circumstances which commonly include the absence of complete and accurate information, severe time constraints, and unexpected breakdowns of communication procedures and technology. In addition, stakeholder expectations and the company’s actions may differ significantly, and there is often a strong emotional element. Furthermore, crises typically create a sharp increase in stakeholder demand for information, but may also raise a variety of sensitive information issues.
As a result, managers charged with responding to a crisis face tremendous pressure and may be hesitant or afraid to make crucial decisions. Many managers throughout the organizational hierarchy also experience high levels of stress because they are unprepared to work with the news media. Unfortunately, some managers even view reporters as their adversaries and fail to realize that given today’s around-the-clock news cycle and the growing influence of social media and citizen journalism, stonewalling or simply saying “no comment” in a crisis situation creates a dangerous information vacuum.
Management’s willingness and ability to provide the media and other stakeholders with timely, truthful, consistent and coordinated information is crucial in times of crisis, and shortcomings can easily become a news media topic of its own. If requested information is unavailable or cannot be divulged for legal or other reasons, the circumstances must be communicated clearly so that rumors, false allegations, and reputational harm can be prevented or at least kept to a minimum.
regularly assists client partners across various industries with working effectively with members of the news media in times of crisis. Regardless of size, industry, geographical footprint, and market share, our client partners understand that news media representatives are key stakeholders who must be communicated with before, during, and after a business crisis.
The following tips are designed to help decision makers at all levels of the corporate hierarchy prevent potentially crippling news media coverage and actively preserve and even enhance the company's brand equity, reputation, and bottom line.
If you have any questions concerning this article, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
- Understand the role of the traditional news media and how they work.
- Build long-term relationships with reporters long before a crisis hits.
- Systematically identify and train spokespersons on a recurring basis.
- Establish and enforce news media, social media, and one-voice policies.
- Get crisis related facts out fast via tested communication channels and tools.
- View media interviews as valuable opportunities to convey key messages.
- Study reporters’ tendencies, previous stories, and interview techniques.
- Continuously monitor news coverage and correct the record as necessary.
- Follow up with reporters as promised even if no new information can be shared.
- Provide recurring scenario-based crisis communication training.
Food For Thought
"A reputation once broken may possibly
be repaired, but the world will always
keep their eyes on the spot
where the crack was."