Ebola Outbreak Underscored Crisis Communications Vulnerabilities In Many Faith-based Organizations Face Today
CHARLOTTE, Aug. 12, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ — One year ago a potentially catastrophic medical challenge and resultant media tsunami nearly overwhelmed international mission agency SIM, which operated a hospital in Liberia’s Ebola hot zone. What happened to SIM could happen to any organization that doesn’t have the capacity or experience to handle a media deluge, according to InChrist Communications (www.inchristcommunications.com), the faith-based communications firm that supported SIM with crisis communications services throughout the ordeal.
Photo: InChrist Communications’ free checklist helps ministries assess preparedness.
“SIM is a very capable and seasoned mission organization, but this was too big for them to handle alone,” said Palmer Holt, ICC founder and president. “Fortunately we came together quickly as a team and were able to handle successfully months of media interest and scrutiny.”
Worldwide attention focused initially on SIM’s ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, which served more than half of Liberia’s Ebola patients while continuing to operate as a full-service healthcare facility. When Americans serving there became infected and sought treatment in the U.S., media interest escalated even more.
News spikes and media inquiries continued throughout the fall. Fortunately, the story ended well for SIM. Both of its missionaries who contracted Ebola survived. And during a six-month period, SIM garnered more than 30,000 media mentions, with an equivalent ad value of more than $300 million. Time magazine featured SIM doctor Jerry Brown on the cover of its “2014 Persons of the Year, The Ebola Fighters” issue.
How can organizations prepare for an Ebola-type challenge?
“Natural disasters, workplace violence, moral failures, the unexpected death of a key leader and political backlash represent just a few of the potential crisis communications challenges organizations face,” said Holt. “Every entity needs a crisis management team in place and a plan that’s vetted with outside professionals, updated regularly and practiced annually.”
Organizations can pay a high price when they don’t prepare. If they mishandled their own brand, messaging and the crisis itself, the result could be a loss of donors, partners, employees and the confidence of the body of Christ in general.
“Within a couple of days in late July 2014 we realized the Ebola crisis was going to overwhelm our lack of capacity and expertise to handle global media, aspects of crisis management and public affairs,” said SIM USA President Bruce Johnson. “One of the best things we did was contact Palmer Holt and engage InChrist Communications as our partner to help manage the Ebola crisis.”
“Palmer and his team immediately provided us decades of experience, editorial services, public affairs knowledge, international media distribution, communications coaching, public safety and crisis management know-how.”
InChrist Communications specializes in crisis communications planning and management and has developed a Crisis Communications Checklist to help organizations determine their level of preparedness.
“The first step in crisis communications planning is doing a thorough self-audit,” said Holt. “If you don’t have a team and plan in place, put one together as soon as possible. It’s not a question of if a crisis is going to hit, but when. If you do have a team and plan, get an objective, qualified, outside organization to review them and make sure they are sound. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend.”
InChrist Communications (www.inchristcommunications.com) is a national, full-service communications agency primarily serving faith-based organizations, churches and businesses.