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Effective crisis communication starts with a plan

The Providers’ Council hosted a crisis communication roundtable on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at Tempus Unlimited in Stoughton, with communications professionals and human services executives and staff to talk about what to do when bad things happen to good organizations.

Panelists David Ball of Ball Communications, CEO Larry Spencer of Tempus Unlimited, Barbara Trevisan of Pine Street Inn and Andrea Mitsch of WORK Inc. discussed a variety of different crises and how to address them with the media, staff, families and other organizational stakeholders to minimize negative effects for the agency.

The panelists stressed the importance of having a crisis response plan in place to address how to respond in the event of a crisis and, significantly, who responds. The plan would include identifying potential crises that could arise (for example staff misconduct; crimes by clients/former clients; opposition to program siting or site problem such as a fire; or inappropriate social media posts, to name a few), and developing a template to respond to each situation. It would also delineate responsibility, such as who speaks to the media, who notifies staff and families, who reaches out of state and municipal partners, and so on.

“A crisis can seriously undermine an organization’s brand, referrals, funding – responding requires fast action,” Ball said.

“No crisis is really a small thing,” said Trevisan, noting that specific situations determine whether she issues a response or it comes from the agency president.

Mitsch stressed transparency and having a consistent message throughout the organization, and Spencer said it’s important to “pull the team together to know who’s responsible for what, and also have a list of who the backups are if someone is incapacitated.”

Additionally, building a strong reputation for the good work an organization does can build credibility in the community and also help temper the way the media covers a story if a problem arises.