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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guidelines for Crisis Communication

This is the most unsettling subject I’ve learned about while studying public relations. Crisis communication in many ways to me resembles tiptoeing through a field covered in landmines while being shouted at to solve complex algebra problems. Crisis Communication is delicate, explosive, and incredibly time sensitive. (And by the way I’m terrible at math, especially algebra).

However, over the years I’ve come to feel much calmer about the subject. Like any mistake or act of dishonesty made in life, the most important thing I’ve learned is that its best to face the situation head on, and come clean. Tear the Band-Aid off. And ideally, have a crisis communication plan in place before things head south.

As Till and Heckler put it in The Truth About Creating Brands People Love, When a crisis confronted head on and put into the perspective of the brand’s values, the crisis can be turned into a course-altering defining moment.”

Be like Tylenol, who in 1982 recalled over $100 million dollars worth of product after seven people where reported dead after taking extra-strength Tylenol. As it turned out, someone tampered with their product by putting 65 milligrams of deadly cyanide into Tylenol capsules. Even though they were not responsible for the tampering, to ensure public safety Tylenol developed now industry standard triple-seal tamper resistant packaging. Although they had to take a huge profit blow temporarily, Tylenol emerged more trusted than ever after this crisis. They reacted quickly, positively, and stuck to their core values.

When dealing with the media, keep in mind these fundamental guidelines developed by PR Newswire:
  • “No Comment” fuels hostility. Even a simple “Can I get back to you?” can be misconstrued as evasive.
  • Always try to be helpful. Too many executives are so guarded in conversations with reporters that they miss opportunities to get their own case across.
  • Be familiar with print and broadcast deadline. Calling a news conference on or after a deadline may hurt your organization’s chance to get fair or full treatment.
  • Get to know the journalists in your area before a crisis hits. That way, they will already know something about you and your company, and you will have an idea of how they work.
I also recommend checking out this blog post at Web Workers Daily which discusses the use of Social Media in Crisis Communications.

Jennifer Berg
University of Minnesota
Jour 3279
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