Crisis Communication & Community-Focused Marketing

Elisa Myzal is not your typical public relations professional. Sure, she writes press releases and will sometimes host press conferences, but the content can be much more tenuous than that of your average corporate.

That's because Elisa represents the Chattanooga Police Department as their Communications Coordinator.

Amid her day-to-day communication, she sometimes has to drop what she's doing to manage an emerging situation in the city or assist the media in getting the information they need on a breaking news story. In short, Elisa's job does not lack excitement. She discusses what it's like to be in her role, how she manages the high-intensity times and what she does to build a stronger partnership with the community her department strives to serve.

Cramming for a Crisis

The last thing that anyone wants (or expects) is a crisis situation at work. For Elisa, the likelihood is a daily possibility, but for many other PR practitioners, the odds of an internal conflict like fraud, an occurrence like a fire or an external situation like a strike can be a rarity. However, having a policy and game plan in place for these and other possible scenarios cuts down on the chances that things could get out of hand and ultimately cause harm to the company, the employees or the public.

Elisa suggests that outlining all the vital questions first is key: who, what, where, when, why and how. By knowing the basics, it is easier to then develop 10-30 possible questions from an internal audience, like your employees or board members, and an external audience, such as the media and largely, the public. Gathering available information for these responses is key. Furthermore, outlining which information is still sensitive yet relates to these questions is also paramount. These parameters are the core of a strong media guide for your organization.

A social media guide policy is a newer addition to the old-fashioned press guide that shouldn't be overlooked. In a recent blog post, Hootsuite suggests that it not only defends against legal or security trouble, it also empowers employees to use the system in a consistent manner so as to maintain brand integrity in all respects. Key elements the post also offers includes:

  • Rules & Regulations
  • Roles & Responsibilities
  • Potential Legal Risks
  • Security Risks
  • Accountability (how to respond at the center of controversy)

Looking for an example to model yours after? Read the rest of Hootsuite's "How to Write a Social Media Policy for Your Company" post for guides from some of today's top brands like Walmart, Nordstrom and Coca-Cola.

Prepping Your Team

You have a policy—that's great! But preparing for any interaction with the public is more than just words on paper. Role play and training for your team will help ensure that your message and method of information dissemination will be consistent every time.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) provides a useful outline on how to enhance your internal relations practices when it comes to crisis communication; however, the list applies to nearly any situation for better responsiveness:

  1. Engage in Active Listening
  2. Read Non-Verbal Cues
  3. Participate in Reflective Dialogue
  4. Examine Solutions Together
  5. Learn

Get more details by visiting the PRSA blog.

Actions Are Louder

While press releases are useful tools for disseminating the facts in black and white, actions, when appropriate, can be an amplifier for your messages. Elisa applies this philosophy to her role in the Chattanooga Police Department through various community partnerships.

Transparency is Elisa's number-one priority, which is shared directly with citizens at Community Police Interaction Committee meetings hosted throughout the city. The public is welcome to these regularly held events to ask questions about current events or even department operations. In collaboration with the local AARP chapter, the CPD also hosts "Coffee with a Cop" events where citizens can enjoy a cup of Joe with their local patrol officers to get to know their duties and them as individuals.

he Department's motto is to serve with integrity, which for them includes giving their time and resources to charitable causes. From the local animal shelter to Big Brothers Big Sisters, the department officers and staff are actively involved in annual programs and events, connecting with the community and being agents of positive change where possible.

All of these efforts are proactive ways to convey the mission and values of any organization. Keeping these in mind will ultimately round out your public relations goals:

  • Actively demonstrating your mission, vision and values
  • Transparency with the public
  • Building relationships with neighborhoods

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