BRAD DOMITROVICHGeorgetown Independent School DistrictDirector for School and Community RelationsTexas School Public Relations AssociationPast President 2008-2009CANDACE AHLFINGER, APRPasadena Independent School DistrictAssociate Superintendent for Communications/Community RelationsTexas School Public Relations AssociationPast President 2005-2006
Objectives:★ Explore the tips and techniques that every administrator needs to know in order to manage their communication strategies in a crisis situation.★ An overview of procedures that can make anybody look like a PR pro.★ Become versed in way to handle the media when there is a whirlwind of attention at your doorstep.
What is a crisis? (courtesy of the American Heritage Dictionary)★A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.★ An unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change.★ An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a persons life.
What is a crisis? (courtesy of those of us in school PR)• Any event that causes you to stop what youre doing and react.• Any situation that requires you to reach in your drawer and pull out your emergency operations plan.• Any situation that involves reaching for aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
Examples of school PR crises?• Pandemic threat.• Presidential speech.• Emergency shelter in place.• Transportation emergencies.• Lock downs and intruders.• Employee brainlessness.• and more ...
Be prepared.★ Preparation is paramount.★ Update your crisis plan regularly.★ Review your crisis communications with key individuals/departments in your district.★ Make sure everyone knows what to do before, during, and after.★ Evaluateyour plan after a crisis to better prepare you for upcoming situations.
Be prepared.★ Know all your contact numbers, cell phones, e- mails, etc.★ Have call systems and e-mail distribution lists set up for staff, parents, community, and media.★ Always have two positives you want to share about your district in a crisis situation.★ Have your spokesperson trained.★ Know the representatives from local ﬁre, police, and emergency ops departments.
Be mobile.★ Things to be ready to go with: ✴ bottled water, wet wipes, mouth wash, hand sanitizer, “face in a bag”, comfortable shoes, change of shirt or jacket, etc.★ Always keep in your car: ✴ district map, emergency phone numbers, media contact numbers, handbooks, etc.★ Technology on the go: ✴ extra chargers, laptop, wireless internet access, portable printer.
Have one spokesperson★ One individual should be designated as the primary spokesperson to make ofﬁcial statements and represent “the company”.★ A back-up individual should also be identiﬁed in the event the primary person is unavailable.★ Designate technical experts and advisors to feed the spokesperson.
Characteristics of a spokesperson★ Comfortable in front of reporters, media.★ Capable to work well with other entities.★ Able to establish credibility and project a sense of conﬁdence and believability.★ Ability to redirect responses, identify key points, and speak without using jargon.
Be honest.★ Don’t be afraid to accept blame – but always have a solution ready.★ Respond promptly.★ Correct problems so they do not happen again.★ Maintain a calm and helpful presence.★ Never appear overwhelmed or ﬂustered.
Never say “no comment”.★ Try to view the crisis from the eye of the public, do they want to hear you say “no comment”?★ Ignoring a crisis situation will only make things worse.★ By providing no comment, you lose your greatest opportunity to control the crisis.
Keep some quotes on ﬁle.★ “The safety of our students and staff is always our top priority.”★ “Because the safety of our students and staff is our top priority, the building was evacuated immediately”.★ “We chose to err on the side of caution for the safety of our students and staff ”.
Keep some quotes on ﬁle.★ “Itis times like this that we are reminded just how precious life can be, and how fragile each of us truly are.”★ “We are fortunate to have a team of experienced counselors that can provide the much needed comfort to our students and staff.”
Keep some quotes on ﬁle.★ “Once the incident was reported, the District immediately began an investigation”.★ “Since this is a matter involving personnel, the District is unable to comment at this time”.★ “Just like any situation that may occur, the District is following the policy established by the Board of Trustees”.
It’s OK to stall the media.★ But always remember to work with their deadlines.★ Take time to gather your thoughts.★ Know your facts and anticipate their questions.★ Rehearse your message.★ Create your sound bite.
Interviewing Guidelines★ Set the ground rules.★ Communicate with your heart.★ Your ﬁrst words create an image.★ Listen with your face.★ Keep your message simple.★ There is no “off the record”.
Bleed for a day, not a week.★ Running away only makes the situation worse.★ Never have a press conference addressing the problem only.★ Confront the problem and provide a solution at the same time.★ Don’t lie low hoping that the radar doesn’t see you.