Crisis communication is a demanding art, even if you anticipate a crisis and put your plan into effect before it hits full-blown, as New York City did not while it was waiting to see if if would be hit with a big Christmas snow. It was.
Then, on December 27, Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened a blizzard-response press conference with a statement that was supposed to reflect snow-response efficiency, but came across as glib and overconfident. The next day the mayor was apologizing for snow-removal frustrations. New York's travail under 15-20 inches of snow illustrates why the tone of crisis press conferences should be empathy, not overconfidence. Identifying with what people might well be facing despite your well-intended efforts is critical. (Manhattan isn't all of New York–there are four other boroughs. And there's a thin line between sharing pain and making excuses.)
By the next day, Mayor Bloomberg was apologizing for New York's not entirely deft handling of the snow. That's why we have crisis communication plans and, hopefully, drills based on imaginative anticipation of what an actual crisis might be like. Even when a crisis plan exists, it needs to be put into effect early, before it's certain it will be needed. Preemptive empathy is what's needed, difficult as it may be to summon on Christmas Eve.
By contrast, Newark's Mayor Corey Booker was hailed for his blizzard leadership. Here's a summary from The Daily News, in Memphis:
"Booker's hands-onmanagement post-storm earned him hero status. He established a plan for digging out and resuming city services. Then, he transformed his more than 1 million Twitter followers into an emergency dispatch channel and hit the streets. He literally dug people out of snow banks, checked on the elderly, and even helped deliver a baby.
"Here are a couple of his tweets:
"I'm patrolling with my shovel;p helping dig out. Let me know if any seniors or disabled need help."
"Responding to a distress call – woman in labor. EMS on the way but I have a feeling my team will beat them there."
"Booker demonstrated positive leadership, communicated early and often, and jumped in to help, making him a stellar PR Pro."
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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