by Elizabeth McMillan, APR

How ready is your credit union?

CUES’ Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

At some point in time, every organization will be faced with a crisis. Some are minor: The ATM is down for two hours for maintenance. But some are quite severe: the deadly tornados in Oklahoma. How your credit union reacts to crises as they occur communicates a great deal to the marketplace about the institution and its leadership.

While business continuity may be viewed as an operational or technical responsibility, communication to employees, members and the community at large is necessary, if not 100 percent mandatory. I am not recommending self-aggrandizing, e.g. “look at us; we are helping our members.” I am recommending the dissemination of need-to-know facts, suspension or relocation of services information, and next steps.

Preparedness Means Being Ready

From a public relations standpoint, we know credit unions that are proactive in planning for crises are the ones most effective in handling them. A crisis communication outline, ideally an in-depth plan, should be created and reviewed regularly. The more likely the crisis or disaster, the stronger my recommendation is to conduct a “drill” of the plan.

Step 1:
Identify possible crises.

Step 2:
Form a crisis communication team, identify a crisis command center.

Step 3:
Identify spokespersons.

Step 4:
Identify your target audience.

Step 5:
Train your spokespersons to address all target audiences and media.

Step 6:
Establish an emergency communication system, which assesses all communication vehicles.

Step 7:
Develop potential and customizable messaging.

Step 8:
Continually assess the plan.

Step 9:

Mistakes to Avoid

Unfortunately, as a public relations professional engaged in lifelong learning, I review more crisis communication incidents gone wrong than I do responses done well. Work hard to avoid these common mistakes, which can be divided into two categories – inaction and overreaction.

Inaction Overreaction
  • Failure to plan
  • Failure to act
  • Lack of concern, empathy, or sympathy
  • Absence of teamwork
  • Restriction of information internally
  • Rushing to judgment
  • Affixing blame
  • Overreacting
  • Bending the facts






Crises are scary … even when you plan for them. Crises can be very personal … even when you have a job to do. Preparedness will not entirely eliminate anxiety, worry or fear, but it will put everyone in the best position to recover and succeed.

Elizabeth McMillan, APR, is a vice president at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries.

Leave a Reply