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#PR: Four People 'Must Haves' on Your Crisis Communications Team
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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In my blog the other week with Warren Cooper, Senior PR Specialist at Evergreen Partners, we talked about crisis communications and also when C-level executives should be included in putting a crisis communications plan together.

It just so happens that Ian James Wright, of PR News for Smart Communicators, authored a column about the four key people you “must have” on your crisis communications alert team, ready to spring into action when a crisis develops.

In his piece, Wright quoted Melinda Merillat, senior director of marketing and public relations at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Texas. One would not usually think that in a crisis, internal communications is also important. As Wright noted, “internal communications is usually not the first thing to come to mind. But it's an essential part of crisis response preparedness; you must loop in employees, owners, board members, investors and the wider community (including the families and business associates of all the above) if you want to maintain a reputation of integrity and transparency.”

Ms Merillat suggests, according to Wright's article, that “putting together a communication alert team, which is responsible for notifying appropriate stakeholders in a timely fashion in the event of a crisis” is essential. She further suggests any alert team put together by an organization should have the following four people at the core: Incident Commander, a Public Information Officer, an IT Specialist, and a Social Media Coordinator. I'm quoting below what Ms Merillat says each position is responsible for as part of a crisis communications alert team:

Incident commander
  • Leads response and recovery effort during a crisis
  • Activates emergency alert system or delegates to a public information officer
Public information officer
  • Is the media spokesperson or designates one.
  • Writes communications, protects brand and assists with image and presentation
  • Coordinates communications timeline
  • Coordinates and oversees “human touch” element during an incident
  • Sends pre-approved communications to stakeholders and community
  • Provides support for strategic planning team and on-ground incident team
  • Activates emergency alert system if incident commander is unable
IT specialist
  • Responsible for the communications infrastructure (computer, website and telephone) during emergency operations and recovery
  • Oversees all issues related to company intranet and other IT systems
  • Provides website support as needed
  • Updates phone systems with pre-approved, pre-recorded crisis message
Social media coordinator
  • Provides communications support as needed, including social media and website updates
  • Implements and manages “human touch” element
  • Trained in emergency alert service operations—activates alert system if incident commander and public information officer are unable
Finally, Ms Merillat notes it would be a great idea to add “someone specifically designated as internal liaison, who is the link between major stakeholders and the crisis management team. “ She stresses that all alert team members should hold regular practice alert tests. I concur; I also suggest that periodic tests of the entire crisis communications plan (involving all those involved, not just the four people mentioned above) should also be done to ensure the plan itself continues to be workable and thereby helps overcome any bugs or any potential issues.

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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