2. Critical Steps in Media Management

Being prepared for an emergency is critical. An emergency is not the time for educating staff about media work! Below are some basic tips for being prepared to handle media in emergencies.

Checklist: Before an emergency: be prepared

Country Offices:

  • Ensure media and communications are in your Emergency Preparedness Plan. What support will you need if an emergency hits? Are there any sensitive issues you need to be aware of, like ethnic divisions, political controversies, government view of NGOs? How will you manage communications in an emergency if there is an Internet outage or the mobile network is down?
  • Identify your spokespeople. This will likely be the CD and ACD, and Emergency Team Leader if you have one. Ensure they have media training.
  • Identify your media focal point. Who will handle media requests until an Emergency Communications Officer is deployed? This will likely be your Communications Officer if you have one, or your ACD or Emergency Team Leader.
  • Implement a CO Media Policy. Ensure your staff know what to do if they are approached by a journalist. Monitor national news for information relevant to CARE’s work.
  • Ask your Lead Member for media relations training for your senior staff so you have the skills and confidence to handle media interviews in an emergency.
  • Have communications equipment on hand. Ensure you have a camera, branded clothing and stickers, etc.

CARE International Members:

  • Ensure media and communications are in your Emergency Preparedness Plan. What support will you need if an emergency hits? Do you have holiday coverage for spokespeople or to ensure sign-off, or to launch an appeal? Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities? Do you have a pre-approved statement to post on your website immediately after a disaster strikes to show CARE is prepared to respond?
  • Do you have a staff member on the CI Roster for Emergency Deployment (CI-RED)? Having a staff member on the CI-RED increases your chances of having one of your nationals deployed to an emergency, which can be of interest to your national media and ensure you have a native speaker available for interviews.
  • Identify who is your communications focal point for emergency media. This person should be monitoring your media on a regular basis for angles of new and ongoing emergencies that would be of interest in your media market.
  • Clarify your approval procedures. Who do you need to sign off your press releases?
  • Identify spokespeople in your office and ensure they have media relations training.
  • Coordinate with fundraising. Who can sign off on launching an appeal?
  • Develop a list of key contacts: photographers, journalists, videographers etc.

When an emergency hits, there will be precious little time to think or plan. This section provides detail on the different aspects of handling communications in an emergency; this is intended to be read before the emergency hits. If you are in the midst of an emergency, your Number One resource will be the Critical first steps in emergency media management checklist. This summarizes the critical first steps in emergency media management. The following sections provide additional detail on each of those steps.

Checklist: Critical first steps in emergency media management for the first 72 hours in a rapid-onset emergency

The Lead Member Media Manager and CEG Communications will work together with the CO to do the following:

  • CO media focal point: Decide on immediate media focal point in CO and tell all staff to channel media requests through the media focal point.
  • Spokespeople: Identify approved CO spokespeople. Provide CI with spokesperson names, contact info, nationalities, languages spoken and headshots. Ensure all staff are aware that only authorized spokespersons should give interviews. Provide media coaching to spokespeople when needed, and ensure they have updated talking points. CIM can also use their own staff as spokespeople unless otherwise advised. You can create a spokespeople grid.
  • Who’s doing what: Divide responsibilities for handling press releases, talking points, CI member requests, media etc. between LM, CO and CEG Communications. Notify COMWG of who’s doing what.
  • Approval procedures: Agree on approval procedures for press releases, talking points, HIS etc. as per the sign-off protocol in the CI Communications Handbook (page 12).
  • Media strategy: Develop an initial media strategy. Identify any security risks/political sensitivities, advocacy messages, etc. You can find examples here.
  • Deploy Emergency Communications Officer(s) and/or photographer/videographer: Determine if it is necessary/beneficial to deploy an Emergency Communications Officer(s) and/or photographer/videographer. If yes, they should be identified and deployed ideally within 48 hours as per the personnel deployment protocol. Notify COMWG immediately and send contact info for Emergency Communications Officer.
  • Sharing information: Send all approved information to
    ci-emergencyinformation@careinternational.org; copy relevant CO/RMU staff. Post press releases, blogs and stories on Reuters AlertNet. Send press releases to submit@reliefweb.int.
  • Within the first few hours, the following should ideally be sent to CI:CO media focal point info
    • Spokespeople info and headshots
    • Direct quotes/observations from CO staff or CD to use with media or for social media posts
    • Customized pre-approved emergency boilerplate statement (updated as more info arrives)
    • Relevant twitter handles (key CO and emergency staff)
    • Press release
    • CO factsheet (or basic info about CO programming)
    • Photos (from CO preferably, or link to Reuters AlertNet photos)
    • As soon as a CARE person is on the ground: audio clips of observations/quotes
  • Within 12-24 hours, the following should ideally be sent to CI:
    • Blog, story or direct quotes from CO staff
    • Initial short talking points and/or Q&As
    • Dollar handles
    • Number of CO staff: local and international
    • Regular e-mail update(s) with any additional information or guidance
  • Within 48-72 hours, the following should ideally be sent to CI:
    • Initial fundraising target and press release announcing launch of appeal
    • Content for emergency factsheet sent to CEG, who will arrange for design
    • Video (if connectivity permits)
    • Fundraising pipeline (how much has been raised so far)
  • Ongoing activities:
    • Identify and share stories, photos and media hooks featuring women and highlight how CARE’s response is particularly helping/empowering women.
    • Establish a media contact list and a media log to keep a written record of when contacts with the media take place, the name of the journalist and subjects discussed. Alert the relevant CIM if you have contact with a journalist from their market.
    • Proactively develop relationships with media on the ground for maximum coverage.
    • Develop and share ongoing materials for communications use, including further press releases, twitter/social media updates, updated messaging, Q&As, human interest stories, blogs, photos, video, etc.
    • Arrange journalist visits to CARE sites. If a journalist visits a CARE site, have a CARE staff member and preferably the Emergency Communications Officer with the journalist at all times. Provide logistical support to journalists when possible.
    • Assessment of media demand on country office and whether LM Executive Management Team member or CEG leader is needed for reinforcement, to do media interviews and take pressure off CO spokespeople.
    • Be aware of the domestic media reactions to CARE’s presence in the emergency. Work with the CO Communications Officer (if available) to liaise with domestic media.
    • Develop an appropriate response to any negative/inaccurate media coverage.

NOTE: The above timeframes are ideal targets only for rapid onset emergencies. In some cases it will take longer to get certain information, deploy staff, or even contact the CO due to communications difficulties.

Slow-onset or chronic crises, such as food crises, droughts or conflict, are different than rapid-onset emergencies. It is often difficult to raise awareness or keep media attention on the crisis; they often become ‘forgotten’ emergencies. Media and communications work therefore needs to be more creative and strategic, and additional, sustained effort is required to keep the spotlight on or reignite media interest in the crisis, and generate ongoing fundraising tie-ins and support advocacy objectives.