I presented a half-day seminar, "Crisis Communications Planning, Response and Recovery" to a gathering of public relations practitioners from the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) this week. It was a great session with plenty of interaction to make us all think.
At one point, I asked those in attendance how many carried cell phones that doubled as cameras. About two out of three did. When I asked how many had phones that could shoot video, only one person raised her hand. Nice phone!
The point I eventually made was that there are millions of people walking around with the technical capability to be on-the-scene reporters. Think of the video that circulated on the Web of the tsunami making landfall earlier this year. The crude, jumpy images were captured on cell phones and digital cameras and posted with just a few clicks. In a couple days, they showed up on the evening news.
We've been discussing the democratization of journalism for more than a decade, but now it's happening and it is having enormous impact on how crisis communicators must function. In the event that an incident of major concern to your organization occurs, you typically have just a few minutes now before you should acknowledge that something has happened, express concern and assure the audience that you're on top of it. Failure to act quickly invited rumor, speculation and inuendo. If you're not out there establishing the facts, someone else will simply make them up based on the available evidence, or their own interests.
In the Fort Worth seminar, we role played the "600-second drill," giving participants that much time to gather the facts, work with their teams to craft a statement, then meet the media.
It's not pleasant to think about, but today's technology puts prominent people like your CEO at risk of plunging their organizations into crisis.
Is that really in the best interests of your organization? Probably not.
In almost every case, the best interest of an organization in an emerging crisis is served by helping define the story and showing that you don't have your head in the sand. That requires releasing an initial statement that states the facts that you absolutely positively know to be true.
"I can only make a brief statement and will not be answering any questions. We are aware of video that appears to show activities that concern us greatly. We are working to determine the facts and anticipate having more information by mid-day. In the meantime, it is important to note that our chairman has stepped forward and is personally involved in the investigation as well as in the operations of the company."
Moving as quickly as possible to assert that your organization is aware of the issue, is concerned about it, is cooperating in an investigation and, if necessary, is open to taking corrective action is the best way to shorten the amount of time you are in crisis response mode and move more quickly to crisis recovery.
If your organization would like to have DPK Public Relations President Dan Keeney, APR present the half-day seminar, "Crisis Communications Planning, Response and Recovery," please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214-432-7556.