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October 1, 2014
In Crisis Communications, Never Say Never
 
Jim Horton has a point on his Online Public Relations Thoughts site about crisis communications – Never say never again. Just learn from what happened, acknowledge the challenges and do your best to overcome them. For Secret Service director Julia Pierson to tell a U.S. House committee "I will make sure that it does not happen again" was indeed unfortunate.

Director Pierson was referring, of course, to the incident recently in which an intruder "jumped" or "vaulted" over the fence at the White House (right off, we don't understand how that's done), and started giving himself a tour of the building before he was collared by a Secret Service officer. There's enough involved here that understanding what happened will be difficult enough. To say something like it won't happen again (emphatically at that) is foolish, because nobody could have imagined it happening in the first place.

By the time it comes to a public accounting, hours or days later, embarrassment has no place in public relations. Candor as to what happened and a resolve to understand the situation is what people (including congressmen) expect and what counts. Whether it could happen again is something to avoid, because, unless the White House is placed under a glass dome, something like it probably can. "Do your best" should be the Secret Service's motto. Not, "I'll make sure" of anything in crisis terms.

(Note: Ms. Pierson resigned today as director of the Secret Service.)  

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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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