Why Events Need a Crisis Communications Plan
Terror attacks are now a constant threat to society and consequently, security has become top of agenda for many businesses – especially for those organisations involved in running events in big city destinations. Knowing what to do at a time of crisis has never been more relevant.
As an event planner, you may already have your organisation’s own crisis management policy that you and your team have to follow. The hotels and conference facilities you use for your events will also have their own health and safety procedures that need to be adhered to. What is equally important, however, is a carefully prepared crisis communications plan around your events. Knowing whom you communicate with in a crisis, as well as how and when you do that communication can mean the difference between failure or success. And this doesn’t just apply to a terrorist incident, but to any crisis situation that has the potential to disrupt an event – from fire outbreaks and flooding to any other kind of emergency evacuation.
Getting crisis communications right is not an easy thing. There are countless stories of how organisations got it wrong – from the BP oil spill in the US to the United Airlines passenger scandal earlier this year. The ones that have done it well are usually the ones who were well prepared. So don’t leave it to chance and don’t underestimate the consequences. Think about it now and have it as an integral part of your overall event management strategy.
Have a look at these five fundamental steps for an effective crisis communications plan around your events:
1) Find Out Who Are Your Key Audiences
The first step is to think about all the different types of people you deal with at and around each of your events. In most situations, the stakeholders will include your attendees, on-site suppliers (security personnel, technology, staff, venue, catering), partners such as speakers, sponsors and exhibitors, as well as journalists and colleagues (on ground and off-site).
2) Identify Audience ‘Owners’
Once you have these stakeholder groups listed out, create your internal crisis team by assigning the relationship ‘owners’ for each of your audience groups. You need to have these dedicated points of contact – you can’t have one person managing everything if you want to be affective with your communications. Each of these relationship owners should create contact lists for their audience groups, which can include mobile numbers, email addresses and social media handles. Collate these lists from your event management systems and make sure they are regularly updated so that you have the most current information on the day of your event.
3) Identify Your Different Communications Platforms
The next thing is to determine how you will need to communicate with all your stakeholders. Quick, clear and frequent communication will be appreciated at a time of crisis. It will also protect your organisation’s reputation on how well you manage the safety of your attendees. Social (especially Twitter) are very powerful communication tools, especially given the 24-hour information cycle we currently live in. However, it is important to note that social media does not guarantee mass reach. According to MarketingLand, about 2 percent of your Twitter followers see your Tweets. Similarly, AdWeek has stated that Facebook organic page reach stands at a fairly shocking 2.6%. Having said that, social media is key to providing information and access to media and key influencers who help amplify your message. In fact, journalists are the largest, most active verified user group on Twitter.
Aside from social media, you also have your email databases which can be created using the stakeholders lists you put together. You may have an event app, which is also a great tool to push notifications and update attendees on what they need to do. You can also put up notices on your event website or screens you may have up around your venue.
4) Find the Best Platform for Each Audience
Notifications via event apps, emails and social media are usually the best option with your attendees. However, not all your stakeholders may be at your event. Some may be offline and miss the notices you’ve posted online. So think of other options too like text messages and phone calls. The management team of your organisation, for example, will probably need to be updated by phone. Communications between your on-site team members may be better through group calls or messaging on mobile apps like WhatsApp or your own company app. Bear in mind that immediately after a major incident like a terrorist attack, mobile networks may be unavailable due to excessive demand. Sit down with your management team and identify the most appropriate crisis communications channels for each of your audience categories and have contingency plans for every situation.
5) Put Together a Communications Plan
Once you’ve identified your audiences and have a good idea on how you’ll be reaching out to them, the next step is to put together a communications plan. It’s difficult trying to figure out what you’re going to say if you’re not sure what crisis you’ll be facing. However, the last time you want to worry about on the day is putting some sort of plan together and chasing all the necessary approvals. Have your crisis communications plan pre-approved and ready to go. You could have a detailed plan for each type of crisis situation or you could have a more generalised one with clear action points.
Make a list of potential crisis situations – whether that be a terror attack or a power outage – and draft the key messages you want to communicate with each of your stakeholders. Be personal, transparent and genuine and make public safety your number one priority. Explain what has happened, what actions need to be taken, what information is available and the contact details of each stakeholder ‘owner’. Include what your organisation’s stance is on the on-going situation, as well as details on when and where they should expect another update. The more information you provide, the less chance of creating an information vacuum, which often causes unnecessary panic and false speculation.
Lastly, train your team members through life-like simulations of all the different crisis scenarios outlined in your plan. Make sure they don’t talk ‘at’ your audiences at a time of crisis without listening and responding to them first as this will undermine their trust in your organisation. Conduct these exercises annually or around each event.
Are there any other steps you’d like to add to the list? We’d be happy to publish your views!