Crisis Communications: Managing the Right Outcomes Amidst the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Aug 12, 2014 6:20 PM ET

Waggener Edstrom Blog by Stacey Andrews

The need to communicate a clear and consistent story that both solidifies and advances a vision of an organization or company is not only crucial to success, it is also easier said than done in today’s nonstop news cycle. It’s even harder to do when the story they are trying to tell involves the Ebola virus, currently the largest, most deadly outbreak in history. WE found out how to overcome this challenge in our recent work with Medical Teams International (MTI). MTI is a Christian humanitarian relief and development organization committed to helping people affected by disaster, conflict and poverty around the world. They mobilize expert volunteer medical, dental and support professionals, procure and ship worldwide donated medicines and supplies and create community health programs with lasting impact.

What started as what one would describe as basic communications support in terms of reactive media management and press release distribution to help MTI respond to the interest in their work in Liberia and the role they are playing to stem the spread of Ebola in Western Africa within just hours grew to a full scale communications campaign – reactive and proactive. MTI’s challenges were significant and coming at them faster and faster as the minutes passed. They had recently pulled a volunteer doctor from Liberia, not due to risk of contracting Ebola, but simply due to security concerns. While experiencing no symptoms, as any responsible doctor would do, upon returning home from Liberia, he placed himself in voluntary confinement until he was certain he did not have the Ebola virus. While in confinement, he granted a handful of interviews via Skype that not surprisingly sparked national media interest. Given the real time nature of the news cycle, MTI was on its heels reacting to the incoming queries and quickly needed to get front-footed in managing the narrative around the doctor, his removal and the role MTI plays in Liberia to make sure the stories were not only accurate, but also helping to position MTI in the right way.

Less than 72 hours later we were executing on a comprehensive communications plan that put MTI front-foot forward in driving the story they want to tell. We helped streamline messaging, and ensured all stakeholders were aligned on the story we are delivering. We’ve turned a lagged media response time into a timely one, allowing MTI the ability to more quickly and accurately drive coverage about their work.

WE believes in the power of a story and innovative storytelling and influencer engagement is at the core of our work for MTI. In just the past several days, we’ve worked to tell the MTI story with outlets ranging from CNN and Reuters, to KATU-TV (Portland) and The Tennessean newspaper. We know that this is just the beginning, and are excited to continue working with MTI and helping them tell their story. You can learn more about MTI and their work to stop the spread of Ebola by visiting

WE is committed to providing pro bono services to charities, foundations and non-governmental organizations as part of our vision of making a difference in the world. You can learn more about our pro bono work here.