Texas State University

Rapid Response Team Design and Deployment

Texas State University is home to more than 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students pursuing 200 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university has hit record-breaking numbers for attendance every year consecutively since 2000. Along with the exciting growth came a dramatic increase in the frequency of reputation-challenging issues.

The Challenge

Texas State isn’t unique in feeling the effects of rapid growth. University campuses from across the country experience many of the same issues ranging from inappropriate student behavior to on-campus protests. The difficulty for the university was that its rapid-response decision-making culture and capability had not kept pace with its growth, so it often found itself responding to negative news rather than exercising early control of a bad news narrative.

The Solution

Hahn Public’s Rapid Response Program was just what Texas State needed. Our approach to helping a large organization better respond to crisis situations is less about putting together three-ring binders that will never be referenced again, and more invested in holistically supporting a leadership team create a rapid response culture. We do this through four phases:

Assess Phase

For Texas State, the Hahn Public team conducted an audit of the university’s social channels and owned web properties. The findings from this assessment revealed that Texas State has a number of under-utilized channels they could use if rapid communication to stakeholders was necessary. In addition, we used our Rapid Response Team readiness diagnostic to better understand the capability of the university’s leadership team to quickly respond to high-pressure situations.

Risk Assessment Phase

Hahn Public’s team developed a complete inventory of the incidents Texas State had faced, and might face, in the future. Each of these was then categorized and prioritized to illuminate an overall risk profile. Today, this process is formalized for clients via our agency’s Cassandra Calculator™ — an in-depth method of studying and prioritizing risk for a brand.

Rapid Response Team Phase

With the issue inventory complete and the digital channel gaps understood, our team crafted Texas State’s Rapid Response Team plan. The plan included principles of operation, roles and responsibilities of team members, a team activation protocol as well as draft messaging for each of the major risk areas. The plan was further reinforced by surveying plans and harvesting best practices from more than 20 other public universities around the country. Hahn Public’s own intellectual property — decision-making tools for rapid response teams — developed over more than a dozen years of testing also supported the creation of the plan. This approach is published in the book, Breaking Bad News: 12 Essential Crisis Communication Tools by agency owner, Jeff Hahn.

The work done in this phase was augmented by the addition of a Hahn Public-concepted digital newsroom. Texas State’s digital newsroom now serves as the universities broadcast hub and allows university leaders to create, and disseminate, messages to stakeholders no matter the situation or challenge.

Training Phase

The Hahn Public team crafted an intensive crisis simulation workshop for Texas State University rapid response team members. The simulation was constructed of a series of pre-recorded news-style videos combined with inbound mock reporter calls, social posts and stakeholder emails. Our industry-best Predictive Interviewing Model™ was used to train spokespeople and the activation plan we designed was real-time tested.

The Results

Major Improvement in Crisis Response

Texas State University’s leadership team is fully equipped to effectively and rapidly respond to crisis events, most often in under two hours — an enormous improvement compared to its previous capability. It’s digital newsroom is quickly becoming the go-to source for conveying information to stakeholders, including reporters, during rapid response events.