PRSA Buffalo Chapter ~ Crisis Communications Panel

The PRSA Buffalo Niagara Chapter hosted its third Sunrise Seminar on Tuesday at the Hospice Buffalo Education Center. Twenty-five members of varying industry experience levels attended to hear a one-hour discussion and Q&A concerning crisis communications planning and response. The panel consisted of three public relations managers, Marissa Wilson from Perry’s, Katie McKenna from Tops and Kandis Fuller from Univera Healthcare.

The focus of the seminar was to hear the panelists’ perspectives on planning for, managing and effectively communicating during a crisis. Panelists touched on several recent public relations dilemmas, corporate-community issues and celebrity snafus, such as cruise lines, “pink slime” and Paula Deen. logo

The discussion reminded me of a great presentation on crisis response planning at a PIO symposium in Phoenix last spring.

Beyond the generally accepted best practices of updating your crisis response plan, preparing key messages, media training spokespersons, responding accurately and in a timely fashion, controlling your information channels and limiting your community/content managers to a select few, the key collective takeaways from the panelists for practitioners who may take on a significant role in an issues management or crisis communications situation were as follows:

  1. Don’t react too fast; be ready before you present the situation from your company’s perspective.
  2. Offer behind-the-scenes access to reporters to provide context and additional background for balanced coverage.
  3. Speak first, speak clearly and speak often.
  4. Stand firm in your role as the expert in the court of public opinion for your organization, management and stakeholders.
  5. Uphold your values as you prepare your key personnel and navigate the organization through the situation.
  6. Take a breath, pause and do research instead of fretting or rushing to a response.
  7. Gather the pertinent information and uncover all of the scenarios before you create your plan of response.
  8. Have an efficient approval process in place for your communications response approach and materials to avoid becoming mired in minutiae of edits with too many “wordsmiths in the situation room.”
  9. When monitoring employee social media behavior, use traditional face-to-face communication to address grievances or issues so they don’t always feel compelled to seek out media outlets to vent complaints or frustrations in the workplace. Sometimes people just want to be heard but yet often feel bad when they realize the scope of their “broadcast” of internal matters.
  10. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal in any issues management or crisis communications situation is to protect your company’s integrity, values and image while maintaining public trust in your organization.

Check out these 10 tips for preparing for a crisis from a 2012 PRSA blog.

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