A media crisis can engulf your practice, making business as usual impossible. Speedy action, and a solid plan of action are essential, says Eleanor Willock, client services director at public sector specialists Mantis PR. She provides her practical advice for dealing with a media crisis
What constitutes a crisis?
This is entirely subjective, which can be the root of the problem. Some organisations have considered an email update sent out with the wrong weblink to be a crisis; others have ignored customer service issues that I would have almost certainly deemed a crisis. It’s all about context.
It is crucial for practice managers and GP partners to establish an agreement on what constitutes a crisis for their particular setting. An agreed set of parameters – perhaps with some criteria attached – will go a long way towards the management of any issues that arise.
In general, however, I believe that a legitimate crisis for a GP surgery falls into three categories – events that threaten damage to life, damage to reputation, or damage to financial stability.
What should a practice do when they become aware of a crisis?
Ignoring a crisis is the worst thing to do. Once something has occurred, you need to take action.
- Collect the facts – ensure you have the whole truth, as much as possible, on the situation.
- Agree roles – in an ideal world this should have already been done as part of your planning process, but assigning responsibilities to different people who work as a team in a crisis can be very helpful. Who will project manage it? Who will speak to the media? Who will answer ‘phone and email enquiries?
- Document everything – one of the responsible roles should be to document the entire process from the start of the crisis to the post-crisis review meeting.
- Communicate with stakeholders – once you have your facts you need to start communicating with relevant people. Agreed messages, a clear tone of voice and an open countenance will help to maintain your reputation and avoid any possible criticism of how things are being handled.
- Notify any required authorities – regulatory bodies, legal help and law-enforcement, in particular, should not be avoided. There’s no merit in delaying contact if it could be beneficial to surviving the crisis period.
How can a practice maintain its reputation (even when dealing with significant challenges)?
Firstly, by understanding what that reputation is in the first place. Is the practice truly aware of what their stakeholders think of them during times of stability? Do they have an idea of the reputation they’d like to have?
If these things are regularly discussed, and the gap between the practice’s perception and the reality of their reputation is identified, then a plan can be made for how to maintain reputation in times of crisis. Without that view, or plan, the ability to maintain something as unstable as what people think of you is very difficult.
Five top tips for crisis management
- Devote some time and resource to developing a crisis management plan that you can deploy when necessary. Without a plan, most crises become unwieldy and damaging very quickly.
- Speak to other practices in your CCG area, and beyond, about how they plan and manage crises – within the public sector the best place to learn is often close by, and people are happy to share knowledge.
- Ensure you appoint a team member who will lead through the crisis. This may not be the leader of the practice and it may also not be the ‘face’ of the crisis – but they are pivotal to navigating it.
- Assess your potential crises regularly. Develop a scale or index to track their development. Think about risk as a reputation issue, as well as a business one.
- It’s easy for me to say, but continuity and calmness are key. Choose your team on the strength of their ability to communicate and connect with people, as well as their medical abilities, and your resilience will grow immeasurably.
Remember – managing a media crisis is tough and challenging, even if you have a plan; trying to do so effectively without one, however, is impossible.
Mantis is a communications agency for companies that serve and supply the public sector.