I am reminded almost daily that we live in a world gone amok. From BP to Toyota to Tiger Woods, we have seen a slew of obscenely bad PR moves recently where everyone except the PR team seems to get that they are off track.

When things go horribly, publicly askew it is time to pull out the ol’ Crisis Communication Plan — you know, the one that never got your full attention, but is needed in a hurry when things go wrong without warning.

Key leaders within your organization need to be primed, trained and ready for a crisis.

The newest vital sign that crisis communications is D.O.A is the live footage of Laguna Honda Hospital chief of community relations Marc Slavin refusing to stop touching ABC7 reporter Dan Noyes. The video went viral with professionals weighing in via Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn calling the PR pro (and I use that term very graciously in this case) “creepy,” “weird” and “unprofessional.”

Laguna Honda Hospital was already in crisis mode, needing a tourniquet from the poor publicity it gained locally stemming from accusations that the administrators used money from the Patient Gift Fund to buy catered meals and airline tickets. Add the cyber-snickering of thousands and you have yourself a full scale PR emergency where your communications team needs to take a backseat while corporate leadership takes a stand.

As PR professionals, our job is to remind senior managers and leadership from all functions that PR is not just a department, but a strategic approach from the c-suite down that will move the company forward in the best of times and spare everyone a bit of pain in the worst of times. PR cannot save you if you have done something bad, but just like you make your CEO practice fire drills once a year, it may be a good idea to give the crisis communications plan a run through once in a while.

Communications leaders should guide their organizations to follow these four simple steps to move the conversation and focus forward during a crisis:

1.) REGRET: Board members, management or staff do not need to apologize, but the Organization as a whole must REGRET what has happened, (individuals do not have to feel guilty or even responsible). Sample: The Board regrets that the financial situation has deteriorated to this point.

2.) RESOLVE: It must be made clear that the Organization is working to RESOLVE the issue. Sample: The Board has resolved both publicly and privately to work toward solutions to ensure the financial health of the Organization.

3.) REFORM: Without the promise of change, customers, clients, members, investors have nothing to cling to. Sample: The Organization is in the process of evaluating reforms to the current [insert issue here] and will be making reforms to this process by the end of the quarter.

4.) RESTITUTION: Publicly giving back or compensating in some way is something the Organization may want to consider. Sample: The Organization is examining the possibility of requiring reimbursements for items that were entered as expenses, but were found to for be personal use.

During a crisis (real or perceived) the company must immediately and adequately respond. The PR person is not always the best person to deliver these messages – someone from the top needs step up and respond or you will end up looking like the director in the video who is all too eager to get away from the cameras and let her flack take over.

Public relations professionals that are serious about guiding their organizations appropriately will have the insight and management skills to prioritize crisis communications planning to ensure their organizations are prepared.

Just please remember, happy hands do not make happy journalists.

~ Jules

7 thoughts on “The 4 Required Steps of Crisis Communication

  1. Jules, good suggestions for companies. You do make a great point that people don’t pay attention to the crises plan when it is first created. I couldn’t agree more.

    By the way, can you add one more R – Refrain – from unwanted touching of journalist. Yes, I was one of the thousands of cyber-snicker’ers.

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    1. Paul (aka Cyber Snickerer) ~ I like the R for refrain. That applies to a lot, but most certainly keeping ones happy hands to ones self.

      Dealing with a crisis is not fun, but once you have been through it you learn that being prepare is less painful than not. It seems right that PR should keep the team prepared.

      Glad you could visit.
      ~ Jules

      Like

  2. Jules does it again! Great piece.

    What’s really uncool about the dearth of completely integrated (plugged in from the c-suite down) public relations/communications departments and practitioners is the idea that communications professionals, when confronted with crisis situations, are invariably asked, “Why didn’t WE see this coming?” The plural case is inevitably invoked when there’s blamelaying on the horizon. The comms folks more often than not get the blame. This applies regardless of the product or service being offered (professional basketball, widgets, spiritual healing centers, Perdue chicken).

    What the lead folks (c-suiters and their ilk) tend to forget is communications professionals need to get in on the ground floor (at the concept and exploration stage, well in advance of product launch, thereby ensuring the WE referenced in the previous paragraph is an actual, rather than a theoretical, WE) to aid with anticipating and developing plans to deal with potential issues surrounding the launch and sale of products and services. It’s apparent this still isn’t the case with a bunch of companies, which is ultimately to their detriment.

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    1. HI Benjamin:
      It’s always bad when you get blamed for the chicken and I have the theoretical WE! In the case of the video, I can see the CEO saying “what were we thinking when we put our hands all over that reporter with a camera rolling?”

      Seriously, though, I so very much agree with you and I want to shout it from the rooftops, but then my very serious point might be lost on the c-suite.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      ~Jules

      Like

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