Dealing With A Crisis
by Alan Freitag, Ph.D.
A crisis can be a career ender or an opportunity to excel; it can also be an opportunity for the organization's PR function to build credibility or destroy whatever had accumulated. When the crisis occurs, it's too late to start planning for it. This is when all the months of prior planning and relationship building pay dividends. When a crisis erupts, you must already know and understand your media and your target publics. Perhaps more importantly, you must have the confidence of the organization's "dominant coalition" and be a member of it. Following are some keys to being prepared:
- Anticipate and list potential crises and organize them into general, parsimonious categories; you'll need a plan for each category.
- As a member of the dominant coalition, exert influence on strategies to eliminate or mitigate the likelihood of crises.
- In preparing plans, coordinate with all internal divisions potentially involved; also identify external PR contacts and cultivate relationships.
- Build plans based on maximum disclosure with minimum delay; list releasable vs. non-releasable information (right-to-know vs. privacy).
- Talk with other PR pros about their similar experiences and plans; observe and learn from related events.
- Constantly scan the horizon for potential, looming crises: complaints; grievances; news stories, etc.
- Identify and train appropriate spokespersons.
- Identify facilities and resources needed; coordinate acquisition in advance: transportation; meals; media center; administrative; phone lines; parking; credentialing for media and badges for staff ("Media Escort," etc.); courier service.
- Prepare notification lists (pyramid recall); practice them periodically to ensure they remain current.
- Prepare materials in advance and keep them updated: fact sheets; bios; backgrounders; response-to-queries; photos; prepare "crises kits".
- During the crisis, keep information flowing; be responsive to media, but never sacrifice thoroughness and accuracy for someone else's deadline.
- Accept responsibility swiftly; take decisive action.
- Remember internal publics; make sure employees refer media to you, but can answer basic questions in interpersonal communication.
- Make arrangements to collect clips and broadcast pieces.
Keep dominant coalition informed throughout.
- Conduct a "lessons learned" session quickly; revise plans as needed.
- Publish an after-action report and distribute to key players; include summary of crisis, action taken, what worked, what didn't, discussion of results, lessons learned, summary and/or copy of clips and broadcast coverage.
- Practice plan periodically; may even involve media (or role playing) in drills.
About the author
Alan Freitag, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Communication
Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA.
First published in Crisisnavigator (ISSN 1619-2400):
Volume 1 (2000) - Issue 8 (August)
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