Even with the best of intentions, a PR crisis can occur in a school at any time. It is crucial to have a plan in place to manage crisis communications in schools and mitigate any damage.

The effects of a PR crisis on any organisation can be disastrous, but for schools the burden is even heavier. Parents and the wider community are much more invested in how their children’s’ school is run, and – quite rightly – demand that the school provides a safe, inclusive and positive environment for their children to grow and thrive.

Any suggestion that this isn’t the case – even if caused in error – is likely to generate a large amount of public scrutiny.

So, when a crisis strikes, how should schools respond?

What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication is a multi-faceted process that involves several critical steps. The aim of a crisis communication strategy is to enable your school to be as prepared as possible to respond and mitigate the reputational risk.

At its core, a crisis communication strategy should be engaging, understanding, clearly defined and emotive. It needs to recognise that stakeholders – whether external or internal – have a significant vested interest in ensuring that the school is providing the best possible education in a safe and secure environment.

Therefore, any communications you create should recognise that your school should be working with these groups to drive improvement, not against them.

What Does a Crisis Communication Strategy Require?

As with any other communication activity, managing a PR crisis effectively means having a plan in place before the worst happens.

Without it, you’ll likely be scrambling to know who to contact or how to organise your response – making it much more likely that whatever response you do give comes too late and, at best, doesn’t mitigate the backlash. At worst, an unthought-out response can even increase negative press.

So how do you put together an effective communication strategy?

Identify the Right People

Firstly, think about people. Nominate an individual who will be leading the response to a PR crisis. Ensure they are confident in navigating tricky reputational tasks.

Think about who else needs to be involved in the response? Headteachers and senior leaders are an obvious inclusion, but there are likely others who could add value and a different perspective. Make sure that your team includes people who understand the situation, and can empathise with the concerns being raised.

Finaly, think about which groups are most likely to be at the centre of a crisis, and which stakeholders are likely to express concern or negative feedback? This could be students, parents, the wider community or even staff members.

Ensure You Can Act Quickly

When a crisis occurs, respond quickly. Establish that everyone knows the plan and their role in it.

The school should compile its strategy and associated communications quickly and distribute them to stakeholders as soon as possible.

It’s crucial to identify and, where needed, respond to a potential crisis early. This helps to contain the situation and prevent it from escalating – potentially avoiding the need for a larger public reaction entirely. Moreover, quick action can also help to reassure stakeholders that the school is taking the situation seriously and is working to address any concerns raised in a thoughtful and positive manner.

Perfect Your Crisis Communications

Effective communication is critical in any crisis. Any communications distributed should be clear and concise, identifying the issue and explaining the school’s response and the reasons behind it. Recognise any concerns raised, and reassure stakeholders that the issue is being taken seriously.

Perhaps most importantly, it should provide stakeholders with an appropriate channel to get in touch and discuss the matter with the school if they are still concerned – without this, they are far more likely to look for alternative methods of voicing their concerns!

It’s also essential to choose the right channels for your communication and this is likely to be variable. If the crisis hasn’t been made public on a larger scale, social media might not be the best option. However, if the situation is well-known, it may be appropriate to use these channels as a means of distributing information quickly.

Build Your Reputation to Mitigate Risk

Prepare for a PR crisis by planning ahead. This should be more than just a prepare crisis strategy.

Your school should be taking positive steps year-round to boost your reputation by showcasing the incredible work you do, and the wonderful opportunities you provide for your students.

By promoting positive news stories, sharing information about school activities, and highlighting the benefits this provides for your students, people are much more likely to look upon the school’s response favourably when disaster strikes.

In essence, the more confidence you give your stakeholders and local community that you’re the right school to provide their children with the best possible education and environment, the easier handling a crisis will be.

Start Planning Today

Managing crisis communications is a vital, yet tricky, area for schools and academy trusts, and no two crises are the same.

Resolving situations like this can be a complex and time-consuming task, requiring significant amounts of skilled resource.

It can seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to go it alone.

At Eduprise, we have years of experience. We help schools and multi-academy trusts craft expert communications and build effective crisis communication plans. What’s more, by working with us, you can access a fully-fledged marketing team. Get experts in everything from comms and PR, to social media and digital marketing, for a fraction of the cost.

We’re here to help. If you’d like to discuss how Eduprise can help you build a comprehensive, effective crisis communication strategy, get in touch with the team today.