Communications and Media Relations Principles
In a crisis, Ithaca College must respond immediately and be open and candid in disseminating accurate and complete information to the public. The communications portion of the emergency response plan presumes that it is in the College's interest to take a pre-emptive approach to public relations in a crisis and that our preferred strategy will be one of disclosure of as much confirmed information as possible. The goal is to minimize speculation, inaccurate reporting, and negative publicity. By acting in this manner, the institution has more influence on what the media reports and acts to end the public relations aspect of a crisis as quickly as possible.
Communication with the Campus Community
When a crisis initially occurs, basic information will be provided to the dispatcher at the Office of Public Safety and the Information Desk in the Campus Center by the CERT so that these operations can most effectively respond to incoming phone calls and inquiries.
The following strategies can/will be utilized in a crisis to communicate with the campus community:
- For faculty and staff, voice mail can be utilized to send out basic information regarding a crisis.
- Emergency Notification System - If the campus network is available for use, an emergency alert message could be sent to all faculty, staff, and students via the Emergency Notification System. Messages on this system are sent to all on-campus phones, all campus email addresses and any additional phone, email or text messaging contacts that have been interested into the system by campus community members.
- If voice and data capabilities are not available, the Emerson Suites will be used as a central on-campus location where offices and individuals could go to receive information about the emergency. Printed information will be made available at this location for distribution on-campus.
- All Public Safety patrol vehicles have loudspeaker capability. Patrol vehicles can be used to announce messages on campus at various locations to alert the community to the emergency and what steps should be taken.
- Outdoor Warning System – The College has installed an outdoor public loudspeaker system that includes both a warning sire and public address capability to delivery emergency warnings and messages.
Strategies for Working with the Media
1. Working quickly and proactively is imperative. Journalists tend to report the first information they get. If information is slow in coming it invites speculative coverage.
2. The media should be given as much information as possible. When information is withheld, we run the risk of inaccurate reporting, negative editorials, and damaging future media relations.
3. While communication following an incident is reactive by nature, the goal of media relations officers is to turn the situation into a proactive communications opportunity. Typically positive messages can follow negative actions. For example, disruption of a lecture being given by a controversial speaker is an opportunity to discuss the College's commitment to providing a forum for expression of all ideas.
Office of Media Relations Responsibilities
1. Media Relations will assist in developing strategy and appropriate messages, in preparing "talking points" and fact sheets, and in providing text for fliers/posters, e-mail distributions, and postings to the Ithaca College website. Media Relations will prepare and distribute all news releases to on-campus and off-campus media.
2. The Director of Media Relations (or designee) will serve by default as the College's official spokesperson to whom media questions will be referred. Where major incidents are concerned, or where especially sensitive issues are involved, an appropriate informed high-level administrator (vice president, associate/assistant vice president, dean, e.g.) will be designated as official spokesperson throughout the particular crisis-reporting period. This individual must be available and accessible to the media relations office and/or news media at all times during the crisis. Responsibilities to media may include participating in press conferences and being interviewed in person or by telephone.
Office of Media Relations Emergency Response Checklist
1. Immediately respond to the emergency and the needs of the news media.
2. Consult with pertinent administrators and the CERT to determine the level of response needed.
3. Work with law enforcement and emergency services (if involved) and College personnel to develop facts. Draft talking points, fact sheets, flier/poster text, e-mail, website posting, emergency closing hot line/information desk recordings, and news releases as appropriate.
4. Distribute news releases to media.
5. Be available to the media until the crisis is over and media interest abates.
6. Delegate information gathering and distribution responsibilities to other College officials as appropriate.
The Media Relations Office will respond according to the level of crisis using the following rankings:
1. Crisis media response
2. Timely media response
3. Routine or non-media response
Response level 1 will always be in effect when emergency level 1 (disaster) or 2 (major emergency) are in effect. Response level 2 will be in effect in most cases for emergency level 3 (minor emergency). By definition, response level 3 would not be used in any case in which the Emergency Response Plan is activated.
- Crisis Media Response
These incidents are certain to have a high media interest and an expectation for immediate reporting, along with a concomitant impact on the College's public image. Immediate notification must be made to the Media relations Office and immediate action taken by it, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Every reasonable effort should be made to release an alert to the news media within an hour, or less, giving bare minimum details of the time, place and nature of the event with an assurance that the alert will be followed as quickly as possible with a more detailed report. In the highest level of crisis operations, immediate communications may be limited to on-campus and local media, as well as to wire services, but will be expanded as quickly as possible. Follow-up news releases will be made as needed and as quickly as essential details can be compiled. Depending on the nature of the event and the media's interest, continued follow-up reporting will be done as information becomes available and as official statements can be prepared. For major events, this stage of crisis response may continue for days or even weeks.
Technical support may be requested from elsewhere on campus to prepare and process communications to the on-campus and off-campus communities. Crisis communications will take precedence over other activities as needed, until the crisis is over or the urgency moves to a lower level.
- Timely Media Response
These incidents can generally be handled on a next-business-day basis. Good faith efforts will be made to meet media deadlines, if the media inquires, and to report in a timely manner as defined by journalistic standards. News releases will be processed and disseminated according to regular policy.
- Routine or Non-Media Response
These incidents pose no need for crisis communications, either by their nature or magnitude, and therefore will not involve activation of the Emergency Response Plan. The matter will be handled by the media relations office, which will use its news judgment on whether reporting to the media is needed. News releases will be processed and disseminated according to regular policy.