The Metropolitan Police’s communications team went above and beyond the extremely high expectations of police responses to major incidents, using a highly professional approach to planning and exercising their crisis response. This included putting media in exercises to create mutual understanding and re-positioning the comms team as essential to delivering operational excellence, rather than being a bolt-on. The judges were impressed with the team’s commitment to sharing lessons and to help develop best practice, both within and beyond the Met, and their innovative approach in marrying internal and external public relations.

Mark of Excellence:

  • Borough Market
    Response to London Bridge terror attack

Finalists:

  • Greater Manchester Police
    Managing Manchester’s darkest hour
  • Hill+Knowlton Strategies
    Big Battery Hunt
  • NHS North of England Commissioning Support and North East and North Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network
    A regional NHS response to the international cyber-attack
  • Stripe Communications and A.G. Barr
    Managing the Sugar Tax

Winner entry:

Explanation of issue/crisis and objectives:

During 2017 two terror attacks happened in London and shook the world – at Westminster Bridge on March 22nd and London Bridge and Borough Market on June 3rd. The response of the Metropolitan Police Service’s external and internal communication reassured the public, police officers and our staff, provided content for police officers to handle the situation and save lives, offered a space for staff to grieve the loss of one of the police family – PC Keith Palmer who was killed on duty – and improved the reputation of the Met among Londoners and the rest of the world.

Research, planning and strategy:

The Met’s crisis communications response was the culmination of three years of preparation and rehearsal. At the heart of our strategy is the principle that communication must seek to save lives. Our strategic planning included:

  • Gaining the buy-in internally of senior police officers to our strategy by working together on live ‘mock’ scenarios with journalists and members of the Met’s communications team
  • Engaging with the media directly before an attack so they understood our response and we understood their needs. We held the UK’s first ever police/media major incident exercise
  • Social messaging directly to the public
  • Internal communication being integrated with external communication
  • Gaining insight about how we could use communications to aid the subsequent investigation.

This produced a strategy based on experiences from other terror attacks in Europe, full buy-in and a series of exercises so everyone knew what to do. Following the rehearsals, we held debriefs to understand lessons learned and tweaked the crisis communications plan.

Tactics and their implementation, including creativity and innovation:

Within seven minutes of the Westminster attack we communicated directly to the public and media that we were dealing with an incident. It was the single most important communication. It signposted that we would be the voice of authority and prepared to speak about it from the start. Within the first hour we had provided more information on what had happened, appealed to the public for images providing a website to send their material, told the public to avoid the area, asked social media users to show restraint and common sense with what they post and mobilised partners in government and other agencies to repeat our messaging. Internally, officers and staff knew what was happening with a constantly updated news feed, hosted on the intranet, based on external messaging. Within the next hour we had put an officer up to camera confirming it was a terrorist incident and providing a calm and reassuring voice. We followed that up with more on camera interviews that night and continued messaging to the public. We did not wait for difficult questions to come. In our first statement to camera we proactively released that the Acting Commissioner had been at the scene of the attack rather than waiting to be asked.

The fact that the attack on Borough Market happened after 10pm on a Saturday did not stop quick communications. The pattern of communication to the public within minutes was followed by our 24 hour communications team. We mobilised other members of the team to come in to central London and keep the constant messaging to the public – making us the authority of the incident.

For the first time ever we enacted well-rehearsed plans to send out key messages for those in danger to Run, Hide and Tell. Graphics and messaging was ready to go with the strategic intention to save life.

Internal Communications:

The Met’s intranet featured rolling detail of the attack as it unfolded and conference calls were hosted for the Met’s top 150 senior leaders so they were well informed. Morale was boosted with a constant flow of thank yous on screens and on the intranet homepage taken from the Met’s Twitter feed. Immediate information about trauma and how to seek counselling and support via occupational health service was signposted on the intranet homepage.

Demonstrate how negative impacts were avoided, positives achieved and improvements made:

We had to treat the death of PC Keith Palmer sensitively and immediately worked with his family to get a picture and tribute on the night so we could manage the media on their behalf. A poignant video of the Scotland Yard flag coming down to half-mast caught the mood and was one of the posts that reached 6 million impressions on the Met’s Facebook page.

We led on communications from the families of both attacks including arranging with two hours’ notice a press conference for the American relatives of one victim. We also challenged and communicated to the media. We sent not for publication direction on approaching victims and when a newspaper printed a picture of PC Palmer after the attack made it clear that although we did not agree that was an appropriate image to use.

Measurement and evaluation:

During the first few hours of the Westminster attack our Twitter messages were seen by over 21.6 million people. According to an evaluation report following the incident in Westminster, we were seen as the most valuable source of information. Twitter, Facebook and online news were the key platforms used by the public to gather information on the incident. The Met’s Twitter account generated more retweets than any other media.

During the London Bridge attack our reach doubled in the first hour. By midnight, our tweets were seen by over 42 million and by the next day, 78 million people.

Following the Westminster attack, we took the unusual step of inviting the media in to a debrief which provided excellent insight. Social media evaluation doesn’t tell the whole story. The media debrief showed us that in general the media found our strategy and plan effective. Internally staff commented on our internal social media forums that they were reassured to receive communication in real time so that they didn’t have to wait to get updates from the media first.

Budget and cost effectiveness:

There was no budget for the crisis communications response and it was managed by the 70-strong communication team.