Crisis communication: Be Prepared!
As I heard three public relations professionals share their experiences with crisis communication at a Cincinnati PRSA luncheon this week, a slogan from the Boy Scouts popped into my head: Be Prepared!
Debra DeCourcy of Fifth Third Bank, Meghan Glynn of Kroger and Rick Miller (PR pro with decades of agency experience) told about handling everything from bank bailouts to jet crashes to immigration raids.
Although my work has primarily involved projects and campaigns, I could relate. At times, I’ve been thrust into crisis situations ranging from a city councilman being involved in a child abuse case to a controversial contract revocation that sparked charges of racism.
Calls came in from TV, radio and print reporters on tight deadlines. Internal crisis team meetings were held to gather facts, craft messages, determine spokespersons… In one situation, the “meeting” took place during frantic phone calls on a Sunday. I soon found myself on camera with my wife and daughter nearby waiting to go on a family outing.
At those moments, I was really grateful that our organization had a crisis communication process in place. We didn’t really have to rehearse it because the nature of our business — large government social services agency with huge programs, including child protection — lends itself to crisis situations. I also was glad to be able to recall how other PRSA members had successfully handled their crisis situations.
At this week’s luncheon, all three speakers spoke about the importance of already having build good relationships with the media. They had built an atmosphere of trust and respect — relationships strong enough to allow for give-and-take at critical junctures. They could question a journalist’s “facts” and supply relevant information that would allow for a fair report.
They also spoke about that feeling that the whole world is watching your organization get hammered in the press — that warped perspective that your problems are bigger than everyone else’s, that everyone is talking about you, when — in reality — you are just one of the headlines. You’re just hyper-aware of the situation.
They talked about getting moral support from family, colleagues and others. One even calls her college professors, years after graduating from school.
They stressed the importance of keeping your calm — of not blurting out what would make you feel good, but would make your organization look bad.
They shared tips such as having a dark suit in a closet at work for those inevitable casual Fridays when a crisis flares up — and making backup babysitting plans in advance, so you’re not scrambling to have somebody watch the kids when you need to manage the crisis at hand.
The spoke about the importance of communicating with employees, so they don’t rely on the media filter as their sole source of information.
Hopefully, you gleaned some helpful ideas from these thoughts and experiences. You can also visit the @CincinnatiPRSA and @MikeBoehmer Twitter streams from April 14 at noon for more notes.
I would love to hear your experiences with crisis communications in the comments section. We can all learn from each other. It will help us Be Prepared and (another Boy Scout slogan) Do a Good Turn Daily!