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January 22, 2009
Crisis Communications – Part I
Wow – “Miracle on the Hudson.”  It’s been quite a day here in NYC – and around the US – as we all learned of the crash of US Airways’ Flight 1549, which was flying from NYC to Charlotte.
It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that the training of the flight crew saved 150 lives and that the rescuers were quick to help, and for that we are all eternally grateful.
I have to give credit to US Airways for being prepared, keeping their cool and handling the situation with alacrity and positivity.  The networks broke in to programming around 3:30 PM (give or take a few minutes), and within 40 minutes, US Airways had confirmed information about the plane, passengers and crew and made it available to the news media.  They continued to update and confirm the information for the next two and a half hours, including a statement from their CEO, Doug Parker.
While Mr. Parker’s statement was less than warm and fuzzy, he did praise the crew and the rescue agencies and organizations, which supported each other and the passengers. His lack of emotion and concern for the crew and passengers’ ordeal was left to be desired, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
Every airlines’ worst nightmare is the crashing of one of their planes.  Every business’ nightmare is that a customer will be harmed in some way. Having a crisis communications plan in place BEFORE something happens is key. What defines a crisis and what are the key elements to creating a crisis communications plan?  Let’s discuss.
A crisis, by definition, is “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome; a situation that has reached a critical phase.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)  A crisis, by professional standards, is a situation that impedes the ability to do business in a normal manner. Because a crisis often confuses, alarms, or angers customers, the result of a crisis, if not handled properly, can cause the loss of business, and ultimately, the loss of reputation.
With the following basic elements in place, rest assured, you (and your business) can be secure in knowing that you are prepared to handle almost any situation that comes your way. Don’t forget to get this plan approved, test it several times, and then update it approximately every year, as market conditions, executives and vendors/clients change. And most importantly, know where this plan is so you can find it immediately.

·   Prepare executive names, titles, phone numbers and email addresses so you can reach them immediately. Know when and where they can be reached and who should be the spokesperson for a particular issue. Not every executive can speak towards every situation, so designate and tell appropriate spokespeople. Notify senior management about a crisis as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.

·   Think about potential harmful situations or questions that could occur, from every angle, and answer them, so you know what to say as soon as you look at them.  Talk to your executives to find out if they can think of any potential situations and how they would prefer the situation to be handled/answered. You may not agree with their answers but you do need to work with them and get their buy in to respond. When creating answers, always be sure to express concern and emotion for those in danger’s way. Ensure, Prevent, Assure and Correct.

·   Know which executives and employees have skill sets that might be helpful in a crisis – CPR/first aid, foreign language, construction, etc. Human Resources might be able to assist you with this. Don’t forget to clear it with upper management to refer to these people, if necessary.

·   Research your client’s clients and vendors, so you know who to contact there. Call them and provide information to let them know what’s happening during a crisis.

·   Have all necessary public agency information on hand – political, police, fire, Red Cross, hospital, gas, electric, water, etc., in order to alert and work in conjunction with them.

·   Have union contacts available.

·   Know how to reach your competitors.  In a time of crisis, companies need to stick together to reinforce good business practices with their publics.

·   Prepare a targeted media list to reach out to with company information.  This is not the time for exclusives. This is the time to calm a worried public and re-gain their trust by providing as much truthful information as possible as soon as possible.
Now that you have all this information, how do you react to a crisis?  Stay tuned for Part II.
Connect with me on these networks: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MyRagan, Mediapost, LadiesWhoLaunch, SavorTheSuccess, PROpenMic, PitchEngine, EntrepreneurConnect, Inc. BizNet, Variety’s The Biz, MerchantCircle, IndustryGrind, MyCityFaces – NYC, and FastPitch Network.
NYC-based PR people of all levels are welcome to join the NYCPublicRelationsGroup:

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Jocelyn Brandeis is an accomplished and award-winning communications professional with more than 15 years experience in the entertainment, consumer, new media, B2B, Hispanic, and nonprofit industries. She is responsible for securing interviews and media placement and creating full PR campaigns. Since co-founding JBLH Communications, the client roster has included: National Lampoon Comedy House, Doggy Tug, Mandinez.com, Play Clay Factory, The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and The Child Center of NY.

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