If COVID-19 is a reminder of anything it’s this; the unthinkable really does happen. With countries around the world closing their borders, shutting down public spaces and shoring up failing economies, few of us expected to be so deeply affected by the pandemic. The word ‘crisis’ couldn’t be more appropriate.
Education is one of many sectors that’s been hit by dramatic changes. A few schools across the UK have already closed due to evidence of infection and the rest of us are taking careful measures to help stem the outbreak. At this crucial time, communication is everything. Your staff, students, parents and partners will all need to pull together as a team to keep each other safe. And it’s the job of your school’s comms team to rally the troops.
This week, we’re dedicating some time to crisis communications. There’s no better time than today to get your strategy ironed out (excepting, perhaps, yesterday). These tips will be indispensable when the time comes to send out that all-important message.
#1 Identify behaviour-oriented outcomes
Ultimately, the goal of your comms plan is to get others to take action. The first step in your strategy is identifying what those actions will be. We like to do this in a similar vein to planning business goals by using a SMART framework. Outcome behaviours should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Don’t neglect to ensure that they integrate sensibly with your stakeholder’s daily lives.
#2 Do a risk assessment
Perhaps the most important step in the process, risk assessment helps you identify potential problems in advance and avoid them. There are a huge number of frameworks out there that you can use to plan your assessment, so find one that works for you. Udemy has some great short courses on the subject for a negligible cost.
#3 Map your stakeholders
It’s likely that each one of your key stakeholders will need personalised messaging. Build a matrix that includes everyone you need to reach, including their individualised behaviour outcomes and personalised messaging. It’s useful at this stage to map their communications behaviour, too. Assess which comms touchpoints they’re most likely to use and when, as well as potential communications barriers.
#4 Take stock of your channels
Spend some time thinking carefully about your channels and you’ll find you have a lot more of them than you initially thought. Everything from word of mouth to direct mail, social media and public forums can be useful to you, although the latter may be problematic if your crisis is a pandemic! In a crisis, you’ll need to leverage every channel you have at your disposal, so don’t neglect anything. Also, remember that channel access will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder, so identify who is most likely to use which channel.
#5 Create a comms schedule
During a crisis, the situation can change in an instant so you’ll need to stay flexible. However, a communications schedule can give you a framework to work to and helps to keep stakeholders in line. Remember that you’ll want your key messages to go out a few times each to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to receive them.
#6 Find a talented writer
Whether that’s you, someone in your company or an outsider, you’ll need someone who can write well. And that doesn’t mean making your messages sound flowery – it’s about presenting the information clearly and concisely. A good writer will help you prioritise messages and present them without causing panic. You’ll need one even if public forums are your main comms channel. They’ll be able to write a great speech for you.
#7 Focus on the best-case scenario
Until this point, we’ve focused on the methodology of your comms strategy rather than the content. However, the way you present the information will be extremely important. In your messaging, remember to focus on the positive outcomes you want rather than the potential negative consequences. But you’ll need to be clear about the risks, too.
#8 Create visuals
There’s a reason airlines use pictures to show flight safety information – they’re quickly and easily understood by everyone. Consider using visuals in your comms so that everyone gets the message. Remember, you might not be able to know or plan for all the communications barriers your stakeholders will face. Presenting the information in a variety of formats helps you to avoid the challenges you don’t know about.
Here at Ambleglow, we’re not crisis management specialists. However, we are specialists in communicating with and on behalf of schools. If you’d like to learn more about how we approach communication in times of crisis, drop us a line today. We’d love to hear from you. Otherwise, stay safe out there!