What if the media spotlight turned on your school – how would you communicate in a crisis?

16 February 2012 By Northern Lights

What if the media spotlight turned on your school – how would you communicate in a crisis? image

A disaster on a school trip is every head’s worst nightmare.  You are trying to cope with anxious parents while journalists and photographers are camped outside the school gates.

Every year we see national newspaper headlines about students injured or killed on school skiing trips or outdoor activities.  Incidents involving cyber bullying, inappropriate behaviour on Facebook and underage drinking will also make headlines.

If you are a local authority school you can call on the council’s experienced press office team for support and guidance when a crisis hits.  But what if you are now an academy that has opted out of local authority control and you have a communications crisis to deal with?  Do you have the internal expertise to be able to deal with a barrage of media questions and interviews?

If your school is at the centre of a breaking news story you could face relentless questioning.  Media speculation will fuel concern among parents and students.  In the age of social media many will use Twitter and Facebook to voice their concerns and pose questions.

Is your school prepared to communicate effectively in a crisis?  Here are 10 key questions to consider.

  1. Have you got a communications’ plan in place alongside your emergency plans for dealing with a crisis?
  2. Do you know exactly how you will communicate with key people in the event of a crisis –including parents, students, staff and the media?
  3. What channels will you use for reaching these critical audiences?
  4. Does your chain of command in your crisis planning include people trained to handle media interviews, including television and radio?
  5. Who will brief your media spokesperson/people and keep them up to date with the latest news before anyone else leaks information to the media?
  6. Do you understand how the media works – for example their deadlines and their agendas?
  7. How confident are you that your media spokesperson can stay calm and in control in the face of potentially hostile questioning and media speculation?
  8. You can’t ignore social media in the event of a crisis. Has your school got Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts so that you can respond quickly via social media channels and give out updates on a developing crisis?
  9. Are the passwords and user names for your social media accounts written down in your communications’ plan? 
  10. News travels fast via Twitter and Facebook.  Someone at the scene of an incident may have posted images on Flickr or YouTube.  Do you have someone with authority watching what others are saying on social media and responding to posts from concerned stakeholders?

Schools and colleges are increasingly working in partnership.  If you are a school that has come out of local authority control perhaps collaboration is the key to gaining the necessary expertise to communicate effectively in a crisis.  What do you think?

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Written by Northern Lights

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