A crisis pregnancy center shouldn’t also have to deal with crisis communications. When it happens, it could take your primary mission and knock your train off the tracks. You are trying to do good work dealing with women in a crisis pregnancy. You are focusing on something that is not your mission in a crisis moment that could have irreparable harm if not handled well.
Like any medical protocol you might practice at your facility, the crisis preparation work that you do today will save you time, energy, and headaches when a crisis does occur. By prepping for the worst, you ensure you’ll be ready to “plug and play” when needed, equipping your teams for confidence.
Look at What the Other Side Does
It’s interesting to note what Planned Parenthood does on their side of communications. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a charity, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, its advocacy arm, employ hundreds of people in New York and Washington. Dozens of them work on communication issues, including an entire team that focuses on social media and other digital projects. Their goal is to make sure they are giving priority attention to what is happening online and any situations that may come up for their communication team to respond to.
If Planned Parenthood is preparing in advance for any situation and is monitoring digital communication, shouldn’t pro-life groups be doing the same?
Plan Before it Happens
In the case of a fire in a building, it’s best that the employees practice steps before the crisis so that they aren’t just guessing what to do in an emergency. Just like preparing for a fire in your own location, you can also prepare for the fire of crisis communications today.
It’s important to have your “fire” safety plan in place so that you can act quickly. If the receptionist or volunteer answers a phone call from a reporter asking for comments about a situation your organization has not discovered yet, you’ll want to make sure this individual feels confident.
Follow These Steps to Develop Your Crisis Communication Plan
1. Identify your crisis communication team.
Form a small team to help you walk through the next steps of the planning phases. This team should be level-headed, solid communicators, and knowledgeable about your organization and its mission.
Identify a point person on the team who is a trustworthy and calm voice who can be given the responsibility of overseeing the communication to the internal team, board of directors, volunteers, and others. It’s important that this person be involved in the conversation from the beginning so they understand the background and can answer or direct any investigative questions to the leadership group.
With your legal advisor present, record in detail the events that could occur for all parties involved. With your attorney, write down your response to the crisis that would not require consulting with your attorney in advance only because you may not be able to connect with them as quickly as the media cycle. You want to make sure you and your lawyer are in agreement so that you are not left out there with a “no comment.”
2. Make a list of key stakeholders to communicate with directly.
Who are the most important people within your organization who will need to be trained and empowered in a crisis? Most likely, these are people speaking on your behalf, like leaders, executives, board members, and communication teams.
You’ll also want to connect with those outside your organization, so they know how to communicate your key message points if asked, and to let them know you have a planned approach.
(You will also need to connect with those outside your organization such as the media, local and state health authorities, and perhaps even the police if the matter could be criminal in nature.)
3. Brainstorm anticipated scenarios.
This is a leadership group practice where you and key individuals on your team discuss all likely results from crisis situations. Think in terms of 24 hours, one week, one month, three months, six months, and one year. This will give your team better control over your messaging today to get your desired result.
(An example is a person accused of patient harassment, giving misinformation, financial impropriety, or not being in full compliance with local medical compliance.)
4. Craft buffer statements and holding statements.
Adapt holding statements that are precise, concise, and non-inflammatory and are safe for immediate distribution. Among the leadership team, decide what the main talking points should be. Educate your staff and volunteers about what those talking points are during the crisis situation and until more information is obtained.
Don’t put anything in writing for distribution that you wouldn’t want disclosed to the public. Content can easily get passed along to a volunteer, family friend, or neighbor, which could be used by the opposing side against you. So make sure that your holding statements are precise and without accusation or too many details.
Be sure to stand your ground in these situations. If the crisis draws the attention of the media, a reporter or journalist will continue to ask questions to try to get more information.
A simple “Let me try to get back to you with an answer on that” is an easy and repeatable sentence to use if the question grilling continues.
Buffer Statement Examples
- “I will have someone get back to you about that as soon as possible.”
- “I do not have any information or details on what you are asking about, but I can connect you with someone who can answer your questions.”
Holding Statement Example
“The [name of pregnancy center’s] policies respect and honor confidential client information; therefore, we are unable to offer further comment. Our clients trust [name of pregnancy center] because we ensure their safety and confidentiality.”
5. Create and disseminate a crisis communications policy.
Make sure you have a Crisis Communications Policy in place that is taught to every member of the team in advance of any crisis situation.
Here are eight examples of what a policy looks like for a pro-life organization:
1. All crises should be reported.
2. Only the designated spokesperson(s) is (are) authorized to release information.
3. The appropriate response to all media inquiries is to either transfer or forward a request.
4. What to do in the absence of the designated spokesperson.
5. Appropriate responses to the media.
6. Anyone making inquiries should be asked, “What is your name, who are you with, and what is your phone number and email to get back to you?”
7. Media are not to be given confidential information.
8. Do not allow media representatives to approach clients.
6. Develop notification and monitoring processes.
Build up your defined communication methods, such as phone trees, email distribution lists, or text message groups, to communicate both internally and externally. Establish monitoring services to listen in on what is being said about the organization or a given situation. This could be as simple as setting up Google Alerts, or as sophisticated as using a paid media monitoring service.
Whatever steps your organization takes, it’s important to be prepared before a crisis happens.