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May 13, 2010
Dangers in Crisis Response

Paul Ritchie, a veteran PR practitioner in Australia, has published "Stay on Message, The Spin Doctor's Guide to Effective and Authentic Communication." It includes "seven common mistakes" that Paul has found crisis responders prone to make.

Sharing them as a guest poster on Craig Pearce's Public Relations and Managing Reputation blog, Paul's  pointers hinge on a responder's personal "default mechanisms," traits or practices that prime their behavior when a crisis strikes. It's critical for a practitioner to understand what his or her compulsions are likely to be under pressure and to correct ominous ones.

"A crisis first and foremost," Ritchie advises, "is a time for good judgment, yet often under the pressure of the moment we retreat to the default mechanisms that define our own behaviour. It’s hard to believe but most of us under pressure move to a way of operating that, more often than not, is our general default. For some it is to shout, for others it’s to lock the door and search for data, for others it is to blame someone and, for others still, they downplay the crisis or even deny it is happening."

As Ritchie sees them, the "seven most common mistakes of a spin doctor in a crisis," discussed further on the post and in his book, are:

  • Not asking for help.
  • Underestimating the danger.
  • Throwing out your quality control.
  • Using weasel words. 
  • Providing false assurance.
  • Not accepting responsibility.
  • Getting caught flat-footed.

This last is the reason why any organization prone to unexpected crises, and that's just about everybody, needs a crisis communication plan that's written out, practiced in drills, and updated as advisable. 

Photo of Paul Ritchie


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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