15 Principles of Crisis Communications for HOAs and COAs

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, reporters are constantly looking for a story that will get ratings on the 8 o’clock news. And that means every homeowner and condo association needs to have not just one, but two plans in place: one to manage the crisis for your residents, tenants, staff and vendors, and one to manage the media.

Does your homeowner or condo association have a plan for handling internal and external communications in the event of a crisis?To do this, we recommend that your homeowner or condo association masters the “OODA loop” concept. OODA stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.” The term “OODA Loop” was coined by an American fighter pilot named Col. John Boyd to illustrate the observation and decision-making process that pilots go through when engaged in a dogfight. If a pilot is slow to orient or decide on a course of action, or if his aircraft is insufficiently nimble to execute the desired maneuver, the opposing pilot gets a chance to steal a move on him.

This is important, because in managing a PR crisis, you have to have an OODA loop that is tighter than the media’s. If the media gets ahead, and you cannot keep up with the demands for information or you allow competing narratives to dominate the newscast, your association will appear increasingly out of touch, and public opinion will rapidly turn against you.

On the other hand, if you anticipate the media’s demands and get your message out ahead of those seeking to damage you, you may emerge from a crisis with little damage, and perhaps even enhance your reputation.

Here are 15 principles of crisis communication your homeowner or condo association should adopt to tighten up its OODA loop:

1. Develop and rehearse both an internal and external communications plan. When any crisis strikes, you should have a way to push information out to residents, tenants, staff and vendors. Simultaneously, you need an external communications plan to push information out to law enforcement and the media.

2. Identify a media spokesperson ahead of time. Your media spokesperson should be mature, cool under pressure, and able to think on his or her feet.

3. Conduct a risk audit. Take a look at the possible risks or crises that can affect your association. Insurance and security consultants with significant experience are worth their weight in gold at this stage.

4. Update your website right away. Put a message on your home page so that anyone who wants to research your association will find the information you want them to have right away.

5. Be aggressive about pushing information out, and don’t withhold embarrassing information. As the saying goes, it’s not the crime – it’s the cover-up. Err on the side of providing too much information to the media when it comes to crisis management. But you do need to abide by privacy laws and consider law enforcement and security as well.

6. Let the well-being of your residents be your guide. The best way to avoid liability is to protect the safety and security of your residents.

7. Stress-test your plan. You should be able to execute your plan even if your office is flooded or destroyed by a tornado.

Skeptical of your association’s ability to safely and effectively handle a crisis? Get the help of a professional association management company >>

8. Use off-site data storage. If your office is destroyed by a crisis, you will still need your database information, and you’ll still need to be able to communicate.

9. Develop an emergency list of media email addresses ahead of time, and keep it current. Identify the key media people who work the police blotter, city desk news, real estate news and business news, as well as other key reporters and editors in your market. That way, you can craft your press release and send it out in a hurry.

10. Communicate across multiple media. Have a text message push to get basic information out fast. Put additional information on your website. Direct people on your text and phone list to the information on your site, and tell them to monitor it for future updates. Print and post flyers. Have someone push your message out to radio, television and Internet news sources.

11. Ensure your board members have cell phones on different networks. After a storm, one network can be down while other networks are still functional.

12. Have a responsible, articulate individual monitor news coverage and keep you informed. If something comes up that you need to respond to, do it right away: in Internet comments, on your own website, and anywhere else you can.

13. Go over scenarios. Dust off your plans and reality check them. Consider a notorious crime on a property, a bomb threat, a tornado, a flood, or anything else that comes to mind. You’ll never anticipate every possible scenario. But in going over the basics you’ll know the issues and can execute even when the plan isn’t perfect.

14. Check and recheck contact information. This information is perishable. It takes constant effort to keep it current.

15. Continue the communications effort after the crisis. Let residents, tenants, vendors and staff know you’re aware of their concerns and are working to address any leftover issues, and thank them for their efforts and patience. Again, communicate over multiple channels and err on the side of too much communication. Don’t leave people wondering what’s going on.