The article, "Corporate image cake has all the right ingredients," which appears in the April 21, 2006 issue of the Houston Business Journal, features an interview with DPK Public Relations'' President and Founder Dan Keeney, APR. In it, Keeney suggests that crisis communications planning doesn''t need to be an overly complex or cumbersome task. An adequate crisis communications plan can actually be created in as little as an afternoon, he says.

Here is an excerpt:

Bad news, good news

For some companies, the best times can come at the worst times. A company that demonstrates it can handle a tough situation well can maintain a favorable image with both its employees and the public.

Nevertheless, a recent survey conducted by the International Association of Business Communicators found that only 37 percent of companies use face-to-face meetings with employees as their primary vehicle to communicate difficult news.

Dan Keeney, APR, president of DPK Public Relations, identifies three key components for protecting and enhancing a company''s reputation when it is faced with unwanted public scrutiny:

Planning and preparing. Have communications systems in place.

"This can be as simple as making sure that an executive team comes together as a crisis response team and that they all know their roles," he says. "It''s also important that collaboration be made on the part of decision making so there is no second guessing."

Response. Deal with the human element first -- making sure that employees are out of harm''s way. Then, move on to mitigating the impact by gathering the facts and putting them together in a statement. The response part is where having the company''s CEO involved is critical. For example, when BP''s plant in Texas City exploded last year, the company had its CEO on the ground.

"It showed the company''s commitment to getting to the bottom of the issue as well as showing concern and remorse for what happened," he says.

Recovery. The most important element in maintaining employee engagement in a difficult situation is open and honest communication from top management.

A basic plan can be drawn up and put on something as small as a business card: Define what a crisis is and list phone numbers for people who should be called. Assign an alternate for each person on the crisis response team in case that person is on vacation or indisposed.

"During this time, a company should be looking for opportunities to show what it is about at its core," he says.


The reputation of a company''s leadership affects its image, as has been seen in recent corporate scandals where company chairmen and CEOs have been found cashing out and using company money to purchase lavish baubles for personal use while lower-level employees are losing big.

It''s particularly damaging to be caught not being truthful with employees. Consider the recent case of Fort Worth-based RadioShack Corp. Chief Executive David Edmondson, who resigned amid allegations that he had claimed on his resume to have a college degree that could not be confirmed.

"Ultimately, as a result of stonewalling, he ended up losing his job," Keeney says. "If he had instead come forward and said his mea culpas, and that it was something he regretted doing, he probably could have kept his position."