• Course Introduction

        Imagine you wake up one morning and read a news flash on your smartphone or other mobile device that a major fire threatens your office building. You immediately remember that your organization recently practiced its quarterly disaster preparedness exercise. You know what to do, who to contact, and the location of the alternate office to use in case of an emergency. You are concerned, but you are confident that you have a plan in place. As a key member of the organization's crisis communication team (CMT), you know your role. You help management immediately prepare a news release and update the company's website with factual information on the who, what, when, and where details of the event. You use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and traditional media, such as radio and TV, to inform internal stakeholder groups (e.g., senior leadership, employees, and investors) and external stakeholder groups (e.g., customers, clients, local officials, and the general public) with appropriate key messages. During times of crisis, the public relations specialist helps management communicate that sound, safe, and responsible actions are being used to protect and defend the organization from harm or damage.

        Crisis communication is one of the many specialized areas or functions of public relations. This course will specifically focus on the use of crisis communication to protect and defend a company or organization facing a problem or challenge that threatens to harm its brand or reputation. As a sudden and unexpected serious event, a crisis can fall into four categories: acts of God, mechanical problems, human error, and management decision or indecision. You may recall examples of crisis in news media coverage of killer earthquakes and tsunamis, grounded airplanes, stranded cruise ship passengers, and senior government officials or CEOs who are fired or asked to resign following adulterous affairs. If you want to learn to become a professional public relations specialist, it is important to have a basic understanding of the important role public relations has in helping guide a company or organization through a crisis or serious event.

        This course is designed for practical applications of crisis communication principles. This course will explain what communication problems look like, the different phases of crises, how to deal with them, and how to anticipate crises as part of conducting effective public relations program. It will also explain the role of a crisis communication team and teach you how to write a crisis communication plan. Most importantly, it will emphasize the value and importance of using social media in a crisis communication plan and in marketing. Through case studies, you will examine best practices that have worked for others. A diverse selection of resource materials will help guide and supplement your understanding for practical application. This course will cover certain crisis cases, including BP's oil rig explosion, a Wendy's customer's false claims, and a UPS employee strike. After completing this course, you may also be interested in conducting your own research to find examples of other crisis cases, such as: Carnival's Costa Concordia cruise ship, Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Penn State, or Toyota's 2010 recalls. These cases will give you an appreciation and understanding of the necessity to have a well-thought out crisis communication management system. The overall goal of the course is to help develop your skills and abilities as part of a crisis management team to help an organization or company develop a credible and tested communication plan to effectively respond to a crisis.

      • Unit 1: Crisis Communication Introduction

        The resources assigned for Unit 1 will give you the basic framework for understanding crisis communication and its application in a professional business environment. This unit will discuss what crisis communication involves, types of crisis and crisis responses, and crisis communication management. By explaining how crisis communication relates to organizational communication and then looking at problems that lead to crisis communication, you can learn the definition and principles of crisis communication and can develop a deeper understanding of its value in today's marketplace. This unit will also provide a brief introduction to the evolution of using social media during crisis. Later in the course, Unit 3 will expand on the discussion of the value of using social media in crisis communication management.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 2: Preparing for a Crisis

        Unit 2 will provide you with specific steps for preparing for a crisis. This unit begins with an overview that explores how you can use a SWOT analysis - looking at strengthens, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats - to assess how a company operates within its environment. As part of business strategic planning, this unit covers setting goals and objectives that can also be applied to crisis contingency planning. This includes learning the basics of preparing a written crisis communication plan that has been coordinated both internally and externally for a specific organization or company. The length of the plan depends on the type and size of the organization, but it should include information regarding the crisis management team - team members' names, titles, phone numbers, and responsibilities for helping execute the plan. Effective plans should also identify the spokesperson, have pre-developed key messages, and sample news releases. The plan should also document media training, other operational training, lessons learned, and best practices as appropriate. As an example of crisis communication planning, you will watch a lecture that provides a look into how the United States' Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expanded its crisis management team to include a monthly think tank that is open to the public for participation and comment. Additionally, you will learn about the various roles employees, leaders, and managers play in crisis management. Because each organization or company is unique in its size and has a specific mission, the roles should be modified appropriately. For example, a large government office may have multiple public affairs specialists providing information to a central public affairs officer who serves as the key spokesperson. Each of the subordinate public affairs specialists may be assigned to work internal, community relations or media relations areas as part of the overall crisis communication plan. Other management roles may involve coordinating information for news releases with other private and government agencies. In this unit, you will learn how a press conference should be conducted and how the 24/7 digital news environment affects the need for quick and accurate responses to news media inquiries. Depending on the type of crisis, it may require roles and responsibilities involving physical and personal security, personnel issues handled by human resources, legal counsel for liabilities, and medical liaisons coordinating information on injuries and deaths. All of these roles help management make responsible decisions that will help minimize damage and harm as well as will help in the assessment of when and how quickly the organization can resume normal daily business operations.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 15 hours.

      • Unit 3: Using Social Media During a Crisis

        It is no secret that using social media during a crisis is a must. There have been recent crisis events, such as a natural disaster, where national and regional government emergency response officials have used social media, such as Twitter, to keep people informed. Regardless of whether you use social media to quickly help diffuse an issue or provide real time information during search and rescue efforts, you should learn how to best use it. This means it is also important to properly integrate social media into the overall strategic communication plans of businesses and organizations. This unit also profiles a successful social media campaign, explains how to protect your social media channel, and provides perspectives from online social media communicators.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 4: Designing a Crisis Communication Plan (CCP)

        There is no one size fits all when it comes to crisis communication plans (CCP). This is true whether you are designing a CCP for a government agency, nonprofit organization, or private company. However, there are some key elements that each CCP is expected to include in the broad terms of pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis actions. When spelled out in the CCP, you want to be sure to address pre-crisis preparations, safety, notifications of key staff, listing the crisis communication team (CCT), their functions and their contact information, situation assessments, developing key messages, media releases, and communication updates. There is always a need to address post-crisis actions such as evaluating how the CCT performed and lessons learned before starting the cycle again to prepare for the next crisis. In this unit, you will learn about the basic components of the crisis communication plan and how to develop a CCP in a digital format. Regardless of the format, the CCP should be coordinated among all participating agencies and organizations. It should be tested or practiced to see what works and what does not work so modifications can be made before you really need to use it.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

      • Unit 5: Developing Strategic Messages

        Unit 5 will focus on how to use key messages to tell your company's story and how to incorporate key strategic messages in online and traditional media tools. This unit will also discuss how to help managers communicate timely, effective, and truthful messages while adhering to sound business principles.

        Imagine you work for a company that is trying to negotiate with its union employees for their routine 4 to 6-year contract renewal. Imagine you are the public relations spokesperson for the second largest company in the United States and there are few trained spokespersons at your company, including you. What starts out to be a routine renewal labor union contract renewal turns bad. As the spokesperson for your company, what do you do? In 1997, a situation like this occurred when UPS employees were negotiating their contracts. When talks failed to produce an agreement that provided more job security through full-time employment and less part-time employment, without warning, the Teamster's Union announces that its UPS employees would go on strike. This resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenues and expenses. Approximately two weeks later, in hindsight and with the help of the case study authors, management reviewed how effective planning and message development could have resulted in a better outcome. In this unit, you will find out more about crisis management while reading the UPS case study.

        Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.