When Small Organisations need to Manage Big Issues

Written by Tara Mulvany

The recent case of Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, County Dublin cancelling a workshop to combat homophobic bullying on the basis of complaints from parents, is the perfect example of how individuals, not-for-profits and small businesses can find themselves in a media furore with no experience or support. The workshop was to be presented by Shout Out, an LGBT group of university students and recent graduates who are working together to create a more tolerant school environment for all students and who had presented workshops previously in the school. In an attempt to explain the situation, the school principal more recently admitted on Raidió na Gaeltachta that parents were not made aware that the workshop was about bullying. This, coupled with the fact that only two thirds of parents received notification of the workshop resulted in a chain of events that led to the school being thrust into the spotlight.The incident demonstrates the vulnerability of all types of organisations when it comes to implementing good communications practice. Unclear information, as well as last-minute and unreliable delivery of the message, has cost the school dearly.

This has resulted in a school principal (no doubt professional and capable in his own role within the school community) being forced to defend himself publicly and to act as a public spokesman for the Board of Management.

Managing this situation is no easy task. Firstly, the normal course of school events is utterly disrupted. In the private sector, that’s called a lack of business continuity. Secondly, a wedge between those who support or disagree with his actions starts to emerge – that’s an internal relations issue. And thirdly, both his personal reputation and the reputation of the school are at stake – now we’re into damage limitation.All of these issues require experience, expertise and a very cool head in order to be able to manage them. When the media loses interest (and they will), the principal then needs to start healing the wounds, regain trust and authority and get business up and running again.It’s no wonder that commercial organisations invest in business continuity planning, media training, issues management and even crisis drills. It’s something that all organisations large or small need to consider.

Organisations like schools can often feel protected and unsusceptible to the risks associated with more commercial bodies.  And of course they’re not always in a financial position to call in the professionals. But this makes it all the more crucial for them to understand and invest time in communications best practice. Most importantly, they need to think and look outward and always to question how their message might be received beyond the school gate.

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