At a recent conference on crisis communications, a participant stopped me and asked this question: What do you do when your leadership is not communicating? WHAT? Her real question was this: during a recent crisis in her town, the city leaders were not communicating to the tourism pros in town, yet the reputation of that destination was at stake due to national media coverage and social media chatter.
Most of the conference participants were horrified to hear her story, but it is not uncommon. There are many organizations that, when faced with a crisis, go somewhere inside their heads and forget key stakeholders. They are so focused on what’s happening externally, that they don’t stop to consider key internal stakeholders.
She wanted a quick answer, but I honestly don’t think there is one. The answer is to improve those internal relationships before you need them the next time. Here are three things you can do to improve those relationships.
First, reach out to those who you will need in your next crisis. What does this mean? This could be the fire chief, the police chief, the city manager, the head of a particular city department or it could be the hotel across the street or your competitor down the road. Each one of those organizations or departments may be able to help you –either in front of the camera — or behind the scenes — in your next crisis. Buy them a coffee and find out how you can better work together.
Second, find out what kinds of internal communications systems might increase the speed and clarity of your internal communication. Can you launch a private channel like Yammer or a group text program to keep internal stakeholders posted during that time? Think about ways of working and test them out when things are quiet.
Finally, is it time for a drill? Once you’ve opened the lines of communication, maybe the only way to find out how you might work better together is to test it with a tabletop drill. Think of a likely scenario that would affect your destination’s reputation, but one that might not be managed by you. A weather crises is a likely scenario. You will no doubt learn about each other’s “ways of working” and know what you will need to do next time.
Internal miscommunication is a common problem for destination managers, especially because they may only be involved on the periphery of an actual crisis. Yet, the best way to communicate that a destination is open for business and ready to greet visitors is for all agencies to work together to improve their crisis response. It can be done. All good relationships take time, and better internal relationships are certainly worth it.