How can you protect your school’s reputation?

  • From poor exam results to a safeguarding incident –crisis events have the potential to damage the reputation of your independent school
  • It is important to plan how you would handle the public and media scrutiny that could follow such events
  • We discuss how to develop a crisis communications strategy

There is no way to foresee or prevent every scenario that could potentially harm the reputation of your school, which is why it is important to develop a robust crisis communications strategy.

Whatever the crisis is, you need to respond promptly, and ensure that everybody within your school community who needs to know about an incident is informed as soon as possible,”
Andrew Lyons, Media Relations Manager, Zurich

Andrew Lyons, Media Relations Manager, Zurich, has supported a number of independent schools in managing their response to incidents that had the potential to cause reputational damage.

Here, he discusses some of the most important elements of crisis communications for independent schools.

A prompt response is vital

“How well schools handle crisis incidents can generally be distilled down to just two things – time and communication,” says Lyons.

“Whatever the crisis is, you need to respond promptly, and ensure that everybody within your school community who needs to know about an incident is informed as soon as possible.”

Case study: An independent school data breach

Lyons recounts how one school asked for our help following a potentially serious data breach.

The school had produced an internal safeguarding report following a particularly sensitive incident involving a pupil and a member of the public. This sensitive information then accidentally made its way into the public domain and into the hands of parents at the school.

“I was brought in after a handful of parents complained,” says Lyons. “I helped the school to draft a reactive press statement in case the media got hold of the story, and I spoke regularly with the head teacher to discuss which stakeholders needed to be informed and how to communicate key messages to them.”

Fortunately for the school concerned, the data breach did not reach the attention of the local press. However, in the age of social media, the risk of incidents of this kind becoming public knowledge has never been greater.

Lyons says: “Many incidents are the result of basic human error, and human error is a risk that can never be reduced to zero.

“It is vital, therefore, that you are proactive in developing a crisis communications strategy. You should know who your key spokespeople are and ensure they have received sufficient guidance and training to enable them to handle media enquiries.

“It is also helpful to draft short, pre-prepared statements that can be released to the media while you are trying to build a clearer picture of what has happened. These statements can then be adjusted and updated as you gather more details.”

Monitoring social media

In the example above, the school had not given detailed consideration to how it would respond if details of the data loss had been shared on social media, or if comments or messages about the incident had been posted on any of its official social media accounts.

Lyons says: “You should put alerts in place so you can monitor what is being said about your school on social media, and you should plan for how you would update your social media channels if something happened outside of school hours.

“For example, do you have up-to-date contact details for the person responsible for managing your social media accounts, and would you be able to access the relevant log-in and password details if you could not reach that person?

“A mistake schools sometimes make is to hand over responsibility for managing social media accounts to a very junior member of staff and then just let them get on with it. If you have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, you need to be monitoring it very carefully and have an escalation process in place.”

How we can help you to protect your school’s reputation

One of the value-added services we offer is guidance on how to manage the reputational impact of a crisis event.

Lyons says: “Customers should feel in no way obliged to follow our suggestions, but should you need us, we are there to offer support and reassurance in the midst of a crisis.”

We have also created a downloadable Independent Schools Reputation Risk Insight guide, which contains more detailed guidance on how to build a crisis communications team, how to handle media enquiries and how to manage social media.