ICSHC Communications Plan May 2010The Importance of CommunicationsThe image that the Immaculate Conception Shelter & Housing Corporation(ICSHC) presents to its various internal and external audiences is among itsmost prized assets.Positioned effectively, ICSHC’s image can result in it being viewed favorably andpositively by its constituencies and serve as a valuable tool in allowing theorganization to achieve its goals. Likewise, a negative perception of ICSHC candamage relationships and make it difficult for business goals to be realized.In communications, perception is everything. How ICSHC is perceived byinternal and external audiences alike is one of the most powerful influences inwhether the organization ultimately is a success.Having the discipline to manage a communications strategy tied to the businessgoals of the organization is key to ensuring our audiences perceptions of us areand remain favorable.Audiences of ICSHCICSHC has many audiences who have a stake in what we say and do.Understanding each one, and addressing it according to its needs, is a criticalcomponent of successful communicationsIt is vital for us to know and understand our various audiences so thatcommunications can be targeted to our goals and their needs. While the corecomponents of key messaging primarily stay the same, the tone, structure anddelivery methods could vary widely depending on the audience we’re targeting.Internal AudiencesOur internal audiences are made up: • ICSHC employees • ICSHC clients • The Board of DirectorsExternal AudiencesExternal audiences are those stakeholders who are affected by what we say anddo and/or can have a critical impact on our business. They include: • Funders and potential funders • The community in which we operate and corresponding community leadership
• Local, state and federal government officials • The news mediaInternal CommunicationsEffective internal communications is critically important because: • It supports efforts to function more efficiently and effectively as an organization. • Regular, two-way communications result in motivated employees who are better able to do their jobs. • All employees have a responsibility to share relevant information in a timely and appropriate manner. • It has a positive effect on employee morale, motivation and loyalty. • Since every internal audience member serves, in some fashion, as an ambassador for the organization, it allows ICSHC, as much as possible, to speak with a unified voice. With the proper knowledge and background, every contact an internal audience member has with a member of the public is an opportunity to build a positive impression of ICSHC.Some general rules to guide internal communications include: • It’s critical that internal audiences hear news first from internal sources rather from outsiders. • In order to maintain credibility, bad news should be communicated as candidly, clearly and truthfully as good news. • Because ICSHC’s internal audiences are fairly small and also well- informed, it’s best to stay ahead of rumors by opting for more disclosure rather than less, with regular updates as new information becomes available. • Because internal audiences place a certain level of importance in the messages they receive (and remember them), it’s particularly important to be certain that all information shared is accurate, honest and, when necessary, approved for dissemination. • Whenever possible, we communicate information internally before it is communicated externally (employees and other internal audiences are ambassadors to external constituencies). • Operate under the assumption that all internal communications – particularly when communicated generally across the organization or through common tools such as e-mails – could be shared with external audiences (including the news media).
Tools for communicating internallyTools for communications information internally are many and varied. Neverunderestimate the impact your external communications have on your internalaudiences. Because of this, be sure that internal messages are absolutelyconsistent with those communicated externally. Different communications toolswill elicit different responses (e.g., face-to face, written). It is important toconsider the level of engagement you hope to achieve when designing yourcommunications strategy. Internal tools could include: • One-on-one meetings • Team meetings • Memos • E-mails • Informal gatherings • Workshops and training sessions • Telephone conferences • NewslettersEmployee engagementSince the people who work for ICSHC are its most prized resource, employeeengagement is particularly important in ensuring the future growth of theorganization.To engage, inspire and encourage all to move with independence toward thesame goals, the ways to communicate need to be aligned. Only then can theorganization manage, sustain and benefit from change. Differentcommunications call for different levels of engagement. The key is identifyingand attaining the appropriate level for the given task.External CommunicationsOverview • First point of contact for all media relations should be with the ICSHC Executive Director (who may involve other members of the organization, including staff and board members). Media who approach anyone in the organization should be immediately referred to the Executive Director. • Any written communications to external audiences (news releases, white papers, brochures) are expected to be accurate, timely and of high editorial quality. Final approval of such written communications will be through the Executive Director and/or Board Officers. • Off-the-record” comments are not supported by the organization. Background information is acceptable, but only through the process noted above. • We communicate with simple terms and definitions and avoid internal or external jargon.
• Proprietary or company-sensitive information is never shared. We never disclose financial information that is not available through public channels. • Communications with other external audiences, including local, state and federal government and regulatory officials and community leaders, should only occur when approved through ICSHC’s approval process.Media Relations Guidance for communicating effectively with the media include: • Better safe than sorry. All comments to the media should come from approved and authorized spokespersons. • Never forget it’s your interview. Whatever the situation – a positive feature story or a crisis response – a media interview is as much a forum for delivering key messages, as it is an information-gathering exercise for a reporter. • Stay focused on the message. Always have your key messages clearly in mind before you begin an interview. Deliver them in terms that will be understood by your intended audience(s). It is often useful to use a specific or concrete example that your audience can identify with. Remember that the media is a conduit to your intended audience, not the ultimate recipient of the information. • It’s nothing personal. Understand that print and broadcast media are businesses that thrive on excitement, conflict and controversy (by some definition, “the news”). Also understand that it’s the reporter’s job to ferry out new information that will make the news interesting. Do not take personally a reporter’s probing nature. Stay calm. Remember that a reporter is out to get a story – not out to get you. • Reporters are not your parents. Don’t treat them as you would an authority figure. Relate to the media as you would a community or political official. • Reporters are people, too. As in any other dealings, relationships must be established and nurtured for maximum benefits. • Be a source before you’re the story. Cultivate relationships with area press so that you get out of front of your news. Questions to watch out for • Loaded, faulty premise. Correct the record before answering the question (but don’t repeat the negative). • Introduction by denial (the indirect quote). Be wary of questions that you are tempted to answer with a simple “No,” because they’re a common way for reporters to put negative words in your mouth without actually getting you to say them (by saying what it is that you denied). Questions that begin with “Wouldn’t you say” or “Don’t you think” should raise concerns.
• A or B. Don’t feel obligated to choose. Neither suggested response might be totally correct. Each might be accurate but, in isolation, only convey part of what you need to say. Both might be inaccurate. Point out the problem and move on. • What if . . .? Don’t feel compelled to speculate, and certainly not beyond your area of experience and expertise. Use such questions as a springboard to bridge into your key messages. • Reference to unknown statement or information. Don’t feel obligated to comment on something with which you’re not familiar. • Personal. Answer only if YOU’RE comfortable. • Proprietary/confidential. It is perfectly acceptable to simply say that you will not discuss any proprietary or confidential matters. Most if not all reporters will understand this.Crisis CommunicationsCrisis preparedness is no longer a choice, it’s a crucial, strategic element of acore business plan. Crises strike at the core of an organization’s intangible andmost important asset – its reputation.A crisis situation can be defined as any incident that disrupts the organization’snormal business operations or the ability to function and runs the risk of: • Escalating in intensity • Attracting close news media scrutiny • Generating regulatory and/or government scrutiny • Jeopardizing the positive image of the organization or its employees • Damaging the organization’s financial standing in any significant wayA crisis communication process should go into effect whenever an incidentoccurs that meets the definition of a crisis. When in doubt, consider it a crisis.The key principles of managing crisis communications include: • Institutionalize a concise but comprehensive process to deal with the confusion and lack of information that generally accompanies a crisis situation • Establish a clear chain of command • Identify a simple and universally understood method of identifying and reporting a crisis • Ensure accessibility of senior management whenever the plan is activated • Focus comments around a single spokesperson for maximum control, consistency and clarity • Provide guidelines for developing appropriate public comment during a crisis
• Identify the support network to launch and sustain a crisis communication effort • Continually monitor the media and target audience reaction and respond appropriately • Remain in continual contact with those resolving the crisis so that up-to- date information can be communicated to relevant audiences • Be honest and truthfulA process for managing crisis communications includes: • Phase I – Activation o Executive Director/Senior Program Coordinator alerted o Director of Program Development on standby o Fact-finding and verification begins o Begin monitoring media • Phase II – Preparation o Begin documenting events/response o Formulate strategy o Develop and prioritize audiences o Develop key messages o Develop Q&A o Draft and approve media release • Phase III – Communication o Notify internal audiences o Notify media and other external audiences o Respond immediately to any negative coverage o Alter strategy based on results • Phase I – closure o Evaluate media coverage o Meet with target audiences as necessary o Declare incident closed o Assess for improvement