University of Missouri Athletic Department

Crisis Communications Plan
University of Missouri Athletic Department
Megan McGinnis
PBRL 5465 Crisis Management Communications
18 October 2013
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Dear Director’s Office Staff,
Crises are far from uncommon in the high-profile world of college athletics. While it is
impossible to prevent these unfortunate events from occurring, we can weather the
storm by preparing a crisis communications plan in advance. The strategic
communications staff believes it would be in the athletic department’s best interest to
develop one of these formal crisis communication plans. On the following pages, we
have produced a mock example of what one of these plans may look like for the
University of Missouri Athletic Department.
There are multiple reasons why this crisis communications plan would be vital to the
organization. First, an integral part of the crisis plan is identifying the organization’s
vulnerabilities. This will prompt staff members to take a realistic look at both the
athletic department’s internal weaknesses and external threats. By acknowledging its
faults, the athletic department can change its practices to better prepare for a crisis, or
perhaps prevent one altogether.
Thorough preparation can help the organization take control of its own crisis situation.
When a crisis is made public, we will need to react swiftly to ensure key stakeholders
receive timely and accurate information. If we do not react quickly, stakeholders may
panic and question the integrity of the organization. In addition, members of the media
will be pressing the department for information. We need to be prepared to answer
their questions so coverage of the situation is as accurate as possible. A situation can get
further out of hand when the press is speculating about the situation and spreading
false rumors. This is especially important in the social media era, since information can
be delivered so quickly to a large number of people.
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Finally, when a crisis occurs a wave of panic will likely erupt throughout the
organization. Important decisions will need to be made quickly, and it is difficult to
make good, strategic decisions under stress. The crisis plan will serve as a guidebook to
the staff in a time of crisis and will help them make better decisions when put on the
spot. Without a plan, employees may make rash decisions that will ultimately harm the
organization’s reputation.
Table of Contents
Definition of a Crisis
SWOT Analysis
Crisis Inventory
Statement of Delegated Authority
Spokesperson Guidelines
Members of the Crisis Team
CMT Training
Dark Site and Online Traffic
Notification, Initial Statement and the
Go Kit
Key Messages for Media Response
Communication with the Media
List of Key Media Outlets
Post-Crisis Evaluation
Key Audiences
How Audiences Receive Information
Tolls to Reach Audiences
Definition of a Crisis for the University of Missouri Athletic Department
An unplanned event that threatens the athletic department’s reputation or financial
position and prevents the department from achieving its mission of preparing
champions for life through academic integrity, social responsibility and competitive
SWOT Analysis
In order to assess our vulnerabilities to different crises, we must first conduct a SWOT
analysis. The purpose of the SWOT analysis is to assess the athletic department’s
internal strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats from the
external environment.
Experienced and professionals
employees, ranging from coaches to
the front office staff.
Move to the SEC has garnered Mizzou
increased media attention.
State of the art facilities.
Only BCS school in the state of
Plenty of fan support from students,
alumni and community members.
Never won a national championship.
Large number of employees and
athletes can impact perception of the
Poor recruiting in recent years by
revenue producing sports.
SEC has made traveling tough for
Ticket prices have gone up.
SEC has more vendor and stadium
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Competitive sports teams.
Ticket sales have been increasing.
Student athletes preform well
Make better use of online and social
Enhance game day experience.
Provide reporters with more resources
to produce better stories.
Receive more national media attention.
Receive more donations to fund
athletic department programs.
Get alumni, students and community
members more excited about the
Tailgating initiatives have failed in
recent years.
Poor performance from sports teams.
Criminal activity from either
employees or athletes.
Natural disasters.
Improper behavior from vendors
associated with the athletic
Maintenance problems on department
Computer malfunction.
Work with inexperienced collegiate
Crisis Inventory
Now that we have determined the vulnerabilities of the athletic department, it is time to
make an exhaustive list of potential crises that could befall our organization. The
following are example of events that could injure people or damage the reputation of
the athletic department:
Natural Disasters
Snow Storm
Felonies and Misdemeanors by Athletes, Employees or Fans on the Premise.
Sexual Assault
Public Intoxication
Drug Possession
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Drunk Driving
Domestic Violence
Hate Crimes
Money Laundering
Vehicular Homicide or Negligent Driving
Violation of NCAA Policies
Illegal recruiting practices
Performance enhancing drugs
Improper benefit to players or their families
Failure to properly discipline student athletes for academic shortcomings
Disease and Illness
Any viral disease that could possible harm a large number of employees, athletes
or fans
Bug infestation at facilities
Food poisoning at athletic training center or concession stands
Improper food handling at concession stands
Ticket sales problems
Vendor complaints
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Facility damages that could result in death or injury
Negative reactions to price increase or any new policies
Malfunctions with computer systems
Fan disruption of event
Statement of Delegated Authority
In the event of a crisis situation, employees should release all information to the
spokesperson as well as the Associate AD of Strategic Communication. They are the
leads when it comes to crisis communications and need to be informed about all aspect
of the situation. Please do not hesitate to give these two officials information when a
negative situation occurs. We need to immediately prepare a statement and begin to
deal with media inquiries.
The Associate AD of Strategic Communications will determine the spokesperson for the
organization based on the nature of a given crisis. In most cases, the spokesperson
should be the Director of Athletics, Mike Alden. He is the most visible member of our
department and will receive the most credibility with the media. It is important we
deliver consistent information during a time of crisis, so the spokesperson should be the
primary mouthpiece of the organization. However, if a crisis situation affects a certain
sports team, than the spokesperson should be the coach of that team; unless the coach
has been accused of some wrongdoing. They will be the closest authority figure to the
situation. Finally, all communications with the media and prime stakeholders should be
run past the office of Strategic Communications before being released to the public.
Guidelines for Spokesperson
1. Please refrain from saying “no comment.” We do not want to make it seem like
we have something to hide. It looks better to say you do not know the answer
than refusing to answer a question.
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2. Explain exactly what happened to the best of your abilities and try not to ad-lib
or say anything that has not been proven to be true. This can lead to the spread
of false rumors.
3. Make sure you apologize and let the audience know we sympathize with those
affected by the situation. This is especially important if anyone was injured or
4. Our number one concern at the moment is for the safety of our athletes,
employees and fans.
5. Accept responsibility for the crisis and do not attempt to deflect blame to another
person or organization.
6. Make it clear that we will inform the media and the public if any new
information is discovered.
7. Express what we are doing to determine the cause of the crisis, and how we will
use this to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
8. We continue to stand by our mission of developing our student athletes into
champions for life.
Members of the Crisis Management Team (CMT)
Associate AD of Strategic Communications
o Initiates phone chain and notification of the CMT.
o Responsible for creating all communication materials for the media and
other target audiences.
o Briefs spokesperson on key messages we want to communicate and deal
with all media inquiries.
Assistant AD of Strategic Communications
o Mizzou has eight people in this position, so the lead will depend on who
is in charge of the sport involved.
o Assists Associate AD of Strategic Communications with duties.
Director of Athletics
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o Spokesperson for the Athletic Department.
Deputy Athletic Director
o Provides the viewpoint of the director’s office while AD is busy serving as
the department spokesperson.
Associate AD of Compliance
o Provides viewpoint of the compliance department.
Director of Human Resources
o Provides the viewpoint of the human resources department.
Computer Systems Administrator
o Makes sure all computer systems are up and running.
Assistant AD of Marketing
o Assist strategic communication department with development of
communications materials.
Coordinator of Online Operations
o Monitors website and makes sure everything is running smoothly.
o Responsible for getting the dark site up and running.
Assistant AD of Ticket Operation
o Provides viewpoint from the ticket operations department.
Associate AD of Facility Operations and Event Management
o Provides the viewpoint of the facility operations department and makes
sure the premise is secure if necessary.
Associate AD of Development
o Provides the viewpoint of the development department.
CMT Training
In order to be fully prepared for a crisis, members of the CMT will need to hold regular
meetings to stay on top of the crisis plan. We believe it would be best if these training
sessions are conducted three times a year, two less intensive sessions and a more
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extensive session in the summer when the teams are not playing. The two shorter
sessions will focus on reminding the CMT about the details of the plan and conducting
tabletop exercises and talking through how to respond when a crisis hits. The summer
training session will include more in-depth exercises and even a mock disaster drill. It is
important that each member of the CMT fully understands all aspects of the plan and
how they should react when the time comes.
The Dark Site and Online Traffic
In a time of crisis, many people will flock to our main website ( for up to
date information. We will need to create a dark site to combat the web traffic from the
crisis so it does not crash the server. As soon as news of the crisis reaches the media, the
strategic communication department needs to activate the dark site which will be a
splash on the main page of the website. People will have the option to stay on the dark
site page or continue to the regular website. The dark site needs to contain all the
information that members of the public will be seeking about the crisis. It should
contain any statements or other information released to the media and up to date
information about the crisis. It needs to direct people to the proper outlets to answer
their questions. The Coordinator of Online Operations needs to monitor our social
media pages. We need to post a statement on those pages and respond to some of the
people who ask questions if appropriate.
Notification, Initial Statement and the Go Kit
When any employee discovers a situation that may develop into a crisis for the athletic
department, they need to immediately contact the Associate AD of Strategic
Communications after any emergency teams have been called. The Associate AD of
Strategic Communications will initiate a phone chain among members of the CMT and
ask all available members to come to the crisis war room at Mizzou arena. If they cannot
meet at the athletic facilities, the CMT will meet in a campus classroom. Since every
department is represented on the crisis team, it will be the department representative’s
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duty to inform the employees in their department about the situation. The Associate AD
of Strategic Communications should be the only person to inform any outsiders about
the situation, such as the university officials.
Our initial statement should be released within a few hours of the crisis breaking.
Today, we live in a 24-hour news cycle so it is imperative that we release information
quickly before the media attempts to fill in the gaps on their own. As an organization,
we want to control the flow of information and not leave the fate of our reputation in
the hands of others. This statement will most likely be released via a press release that
will be faxed to key media outlets. We may also release it through our dark site or social
media accounts if the situation is less serious.
We also need to have a go kit prepared so we do not have to search for materials in a
time of crisis. Two should be made and stored at both our on-site and off-site meeting
places. These kits need to include the basic staples such as pens, paper and a computer
for online communications. We also need to pack media materials such as the media
guide and copies of the press kit for anyone who may ask. It is also important to have
plenty of phones and walkie talkies so we can communicate with other team members
and deal with any outside inquiries.
Key Messages for Media Response
These key messages will strongly echo the guidelines set for the designated
spokesperson. The keys listed below are universal for all crises, but each unique case
will have its own set of messages that better reflect the situation.
1. Our number one priority is for the safety of our student athletes, employees and
2. We sympathize with the victims of the situation.
3. We are working hard to resolve the situation and make sure it will not happen
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4. The athletic department accepts responsibility for the crisis.
5. We want to provide the media and the general public all the information we can
to further understand the events of the crisis situation.
Questions from the media should only be answered by the designated spokesperson,
the Assistant AD of Strategic Communications or any other designated employee for
the specific crisis. All other employees and members of the CMT should defer questions
to one of the aforementioned staff members.
How will we communicate with the media?
The measures we take to communicate with the media will depend on the severity of
the crisis. If the situation interests a large number of local and national media outlets we
will hold a press conference. The press conference should be held within two days of
the crisis breaking and the main speaker will be the designated spokesperson.
However, other officials with first hand knowledge of the situation may be asked to
answer questions at the press conference. The press conference will be held at the MU
Student Center, since it is large enough to accommodate the media and has more access
to electrical outlets and malt boxes. We will also communicate with the media by
issuing official statements via traditional press releases or video press releases. The
media outlets we need to contact should all be listed in the official athletic department
media guide. In addition, some of the most important media outlets will be listed below
as well. We can also distribute our media kit to reporters if they would like more
information on the background and inner workings of Mizzou’s athletic department.
List of Key Media Outlets
The Columbia Daily Tribune
The Columbia Missourian
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Kansas City Star
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The St. Joseph News-Press
The Jefferson City News-Tribune
The Springfield News-Leader
The Southeast Missourian
ABC 17 Columbia
KRCG 13 Jefferson City
ESPN Radio St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City
KSHB Kansas City
KTVI FOX 2 St. Louis
KSDK 5 St. Louis
KMOV 4 St. Louis
KMOX Radio
KBIA Radio
CBS Sports
SEC Network
NBC Sports
USA Today
Post-Crisis Evaluation
After the crisis has finally ended, we must do some valuable exercises to determine
what exactly went wrong and what we can change the next time a crisis occurs. We
need to review exactly what happened each day of the crisis and evaluate what
messages we sent to the public, the reaction of the media and what may have made our
job easier. In addition, it will be helpful if we interview members of our various target
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audiences after the crisis and see how they think we did and what we could have done
better from their perspective. We also need to make sure we speak to members of the
news media. Their perspective is important since they communicate most of our key
messages to the public during a time of crisis. The CMT can have some free time to
relax, but the evaluation still needs to begin within a week or two of the crisis ending.
Who are our key audiences during the crisis?
Employees- Employees need to immediately be informed about the events of the crisis.
Their physical and mental safety should be one of the organization’s top priorities. All
employees need to know what role they need to take in managing the crisis, even if they
are not part of the CMT. Often, employees can be the best ambassadors of an
organization during the time of the crisis. They need to be informed so they do not
make anything worse.
Boosters- Boosters play an important role in supporting the athletic department
financially. We need to make sure they are informed about what is going on so they can
feel comfortable about they feel comfortable investing in the athletic department again
in the future.
Fans (Consumers)- Fans need to know that the department is doing everything possible
to resolve the crisis. They need to know about any possible impact in future events or
ticket sales.
Student Athletes- The department’s mission is to prepare student athletes to be
champions for life, and they need to know how the crisis may affect both their
immediate and long-term future. We need to be concerned about the safety of our
athletes and prepare them to potentially deal with the media depending on the crisis.
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MU Students- This can be a subset of fans, but they need to be communicated with
differently because they are around the athletic department and interact with athletes
and staff. The athletic department also reflects on MU.
Media- We strive for the media to be properly informed about the crisis. It is our duty
to provide them with the information they need to report our story fairly and
accurately. We understand that each outlet may have its own unique needs and we
need to be prepared to help them produce the story they desire.
How will each audience receive information?
Direct communication with management and co-workers.
Official department meetings.
Other official department communications such as emails or phone calls.
News media reports.
Information department posts on official website or social media pages.
News media reports.
Information department posts on official website or social media pages.
Interaction with those with more knowledge of the event.
Emails from department.
Student Athletes
Emails from the athletic department.
Interaction with those with knowledge about the event.
Interaction with department employees.
Official meetings if necessary.
MU Students
News media reports.
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Emails from department to university account.
Information department posts on website or social media pages.
Press conferences.
News releases.
Interviews with department spokesperson.
Other employees with knowledge of the situation.
Other news media.
First hand observation.
Bystanders and other witnesses who are not affiliated with the athletic
Local fire, police or other government officials.
Tools used to reach these audiences?
There are many tools that will come in handy when trying to reach our key audiences.
First, much of our communication will happen through emails and phone calls, so it is
important to have a detailed list of the necessary phone numbers and email addresses.
Also, the media will play an important role in communicating our desired message. We
must make the desired effort to communicate with them by providing them with
informational interviews with knowledgeable personnel, facts sheets, media kits and
press releases. It is also important that we hold a press conference if there is enough
interest from the media. We need to have a plan and proper logistics in place for this
conference, which will be discussed elsewhere in the report. The department should
also be prepared for any other requests that may come from the media, and have
numbers and contact information for others they may want to interview.
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Thank you for taking the time to review our hypothetical crisis communications plan. If
you decide the athletic department would like to develop a version of this plan, we will
gather the designated members of the CMT and ask for their input in fleshing out the
current plan. Having a firm plan in place will help the athletic department act quickly
and strategically in a time of peril. It will also help us communicate appropriately with
members of vital stakeholders as well as the mass media. As one of the nation’s premier
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athletic programs we want to make sure to preserve the reputation of Mizzou Athletics.
Mishandling a crisis situation can damage much more than the athletic department, it
can harm the reputation on the university as a whole. As acknowledgement that you
read this plan, please sign on the line below.
Director of Athletics
(Signature and Date)
Deputy Athletic Director
(Signature and Date)