Updated Jan. 7, 2020
This communications plan outlines the roles, responsibilities and procedures that should guide the university in matters that clearly or potentially present a threat to its reputation. Communication and protocols for incidents that directly threaten life, property or the university’s operations are outlined in the university’s Emergency Management Plan.
What constitutes a crisis?
A crisis is an issue or event that may affect the university’s reputation or have significant legal or financial repercussions. Most often, these situations arise from concerns raised by community members regarding activities that they believe have been inadequately addressed by university leadership, policies or protocols.
Creating robust communications mechanisms and pathways within the community allows such concerns to be addressed before they trigger a crisis. Lack of clear, consistent and timely communication from the institution often contributes to, or may even cause, a reputational crisis.
With the rise of social media, organizations have far less time to develop communications, all of which are easily shared with broader audiences. Misinformation proliferates in an information vacuum, so transparent and timely communications are often the best way to prevent and address potential or actual crises.
This communications plan outlines the procedures and protocols that will assist Willamette in communicating in an effective and timely manner as potential crisis situations develop throughout the crisis. The plan’s goal is to ensure that Willamette accurately communicates with key university and external audiences, as appropriate, as quickly as possible to respond to emerging concerns and foster confidence in university leadership. In all situations, the best interests of the university will be our top priority.
In the event of an incident that immediately threatens life or property, staff should first follow emergency procedures as indicated in the Emergency Management Plan. Thereafter, staff or faculty who are directly involved must follow the steps below — including contacting the Chief Communications Officer (Communications Chief) or the Director of Media Relations (Media Relations).
1. In the case of a potential or actual crisis:
- Gather information quickly,
- Contact your supervisor, then
- Contact the Chief Communications Officer via telephone as soon as possible to discuss the issue.
Tim Cobb, Vice President for Marketing and Communications
The Communications Chief will decide whether to activate the Comprehensive Communications Team (Team). Staff members should continue gathering information and share it with their supervisor(s) and with the Communications Chief (email@example.com).
2. Establish a Crisis Communications Team (Team)
The Communications Chief will contact each member of the Team to convene as needed. The Team comprises:
- Chief Communication Officer
- Director of Media Relations
The Team will consult with the university’s general counsel as needed.
Depending on the nature of the crisis, additional staff may be added to the Team, including but not limited to:
- Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs
- Vice President for Human Resources
- Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
- Vice President and Chief Information Officer
- Vice President for Student Affairs
- Dean of Student Life
- Director of Campus Safety
- Director of Bishop Wellness Center
- Athletic Director
- Sports Information Director
- Executive Vice President, TIUA
3. Select a spokesperson
In consultation with the Media Relations, the Communications Chief will select a spokesperson. Often, the President will initiate communication about a significant crisis, but the Team will frequently select other university staff for subsequent communications. The goal will be to select the most effective and credible spokesperson at the unit level. In all cases, Media Relations will serve as an intermediary with members of media and may act as the university spokesperson.
If a reporter contacts you, direct the reporter to Media Relations. You can say, “To ensure we provide the most accurate information, please contact Media Relations at 503-370-6667.”
To the greatest extent practical, the Team will review all crisis-related communications to ensure the university shares clear, accurate information; the Team will coordinate review by the university’s legal counsel.
4. Review facts
The Team should evaluate available information, which may include meeting with the affected parties or additional staff. The Team should consider adding staff as needed to document the situation and track action items.
5. Develop key messages
The Team will develop accurate, detailed messages, beginning with a description of what happened. Depending on the nature of the crisis, messages should address the following:
- What happened?
- Considering our mission and values, what should we do?
- What are we doing about it?
- How will we make sure it doesn’t happen again?
- How does this align with our values?
- How will we communicate further about this issue?
- Does the message protect privacy, comply with FERPA and meet other legal responsibilities?
The Team will establish a schedule of communications by audience and channel, assigning staff as needed.
Because members of the university community should never first learn about a crisis from a media source, communication to internal audiences should precede communication to outside groups or the media.
The Team will review all communications to the greatest possible extent. Messages should reflect the lack of demarcation between internal and external communications and be appropriate for wider dissemination.
The following audiences and communication channels are to be considered:
7. Completion, analysis and evaluation
The Team will determine when the crisis situation has ended and will establish a protocol for further incoming communication about the issue.
Depending on the nature of the crisis and related media attention, The University Communications Office (UC) will provide a regular compilation and analysis of media coverage to university leadership. The UC will review the situation at its completion and solicit feedback about the university’s response.
The UC will consider improvements to the Crisis Communications Plan and will draft suggested changes, ensuring that changes integrate with the Emergency Management Plan and Student Affairs procedures guide. After approval by the President, UC will distribute the updated plan, notifying the affected campus community.