Friday, March 09, 2007

What to Worry About. 

Those who read this blog regularly are aware that my firm is skilled in handling crises. We believe every corporation should have a crisis communications plan in which real scenarios are rehearsed regularly. Few corporations actually do it, however. There are too many scenarios and predicting the future is as uncertain as handling the present.

Recently, a client asked how fast we could respond if a crisis occurred in another country. We thought about it and our answer was not fast enough, but then, it won't be fast enough for anyone today. The reason is obvious. There is a 24-hour news cycle and ubiquitous cameras from cell phones to hand-helds. News media like CNN rip holes in their scheduling to take viewers to Russia or India or South Africa in an instant. No company can keep up -- or get ahead of -- news reports moving this quickly.

What this means is there is little one can do in the early hours of crisis management except to scramble for facts along with everyone else. Phone chains are insufficient and getting someone on-site is often too slow. As a result, it seems to me the PR business needs to re-examine crisis management and perhaps, start over. How does one handle an explosion or hostage taking in a plant 5,000 miles away when news cameras are on the scene at the same time one finds out about it?

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I'm a public relations student and have just begun to scratch on the surface of social media. You talked about how things like camera phones and continuous news coverage has blown your average bad news like the Jet Blue delays into national headlines. But I'm interested in how a company would handle a crisis that originates with social media. For instance, when Dell computer users take their complaints to blogs. How could Dell respond to negative buzz of that magnitude and should they?
Jim, that's the challenge of crisis communication. One of the pre-requisite is putting a Crisis Communication Plan put up at all the client's location, train the local PR coordinator, and spell out the possible course of action required to be taken. As we conduct the communication audit, the first obvious question is to look at the loop holes where an accident can happen...or a crisis could be waiting. It need not necessarily be the disaster, it could be the some senior executive's forays, or it could be M&A activity, or customer complaint. The bigger is the work-domain of an organisation, PR people will have to cautiously look for those possible holes that could leak at any time, and have a client's own team to be ready to handle it.

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