Top Ten Crisis Skills for PR: Hard-Won Lessons and Proven ...
Top Ten Crisis Skills for PR: Hard-Won Lessons and
Proven Methods for Controlling Crises with Confidence
Thursday, April 24, 2008
1:00PM EDT/12:00PM CDT/11:00AM MDT/10:00AM PDT
• Donna Tocci, Manager, Media and External Relations, Kryptonite;
Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies
• W. Timothy Coombs, Associate Professor, Crisis Communication,
Communication Studies, Eastern Illinois University; Author,
“Code Red in the Boardroom,” “Ongoing Crisis Communication:
Planning, Managing and Responding”
• Michael Fineman, President, Fineman PR
• Steven B. Fink, President and CEO, Lexicon Communications;
Author, “Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable”
2008 Infocom Group
Welcome to PR University’s audio conference
“Top Ten Crisis Skills for PR: Hard-Won Lessons and
Proven Methods for Controlling Crises with Confidence”
Thank you for participating in “Top Ten Crisis • Speaker bios and verified contact information
Skills for PR: Hard-Won Lessons and Proven • Value-added articles on today’s topics from the
Methods for Controlling Crises with Confidence.” archives of Bulldog Reporter
This conference manual contains important
information to help ensure that you receive How to Submit Questions to the Panel
maximum value from today’s PR University You have two options for submitting questions to
training session. today’s panel:
1. At any time before or during the conference,
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Date and Time: all of your question in the Subject Line of your
Thursday, April 24, 2008
2. During the last portion of the conference, we
1:00pm EDT, 12:00pm CDT, 11:00am MDT, and will open the lines for a live Q&A session. When
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You will be greeted by an Operator who will
confirm your registration and enter you into the Brian Pittman is director of content for Bulldog
call. Reporter’s PR University and the weekly email
newsletter Journalists Speak Out. Previously,
You will hear music on hold until the conference Brian served as editorial director at Infocom
is started, or be connected directly to the Group, where he edited, reported for and
conference if it has already begun. launched titles such as Media Relations Insider,
During the conference, you will be in listen-only PR Agency Insider, Ad Agency Insider and
mode, until such time as you are enabled to ask Managing Partner. Prior to that, he served as
questions. The conference operator will provide Editor of Utah Business magazine, among other
directions for asking live questions during the titles. He is a seasoned reporter with extensive
call. experience interviewing such personalities as
Steve Forbes, Bob Edwards and Margaret
About Your Conference Manual Thatcher.
To help you make full use of this PR University Brian’s contact information:
audio conference, we have prepared a customized (805) 984-2977
conference manual containing: firstname.lastname@example.org
• An Audio Conference Worksheet with written www.bulldogreporter.com
information about the topic and ample room for
you to take notes and create your own
customized take-away materials
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Audio Conference Worksheet
Donna Tocci, Manager, Media and External Relations, Kryptonite; Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies
Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies
437 Turnpike Street
Canton, MA 02021 USA
Donna Tocci is manager of media and external relations for Kryptonite. Her current role includes creating
strategies designed to build and enhance brand reputation, identity and image internationally to the
company’s multiple audiences. She identifies and develops communications platforms, including new
media, to display the brand’s leadership position. Donna managed all media activities during the
Kryptonite lock crisis initiated in the blogosphere and has since worked successfully to re-establish and
maintain Kryptonite’s brand image online.
continued on next page
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Audio Conference Worksheet continued
W. Timothy Coombs, Associate Professor, Crisis Communication, Communication Studies, Eastern Illinois
University; Author, “Code Red in the Boardroom,” “Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing
6460 Lincoln Highway Road
Charleston, IL 61920
(217) 581-5718 fax
W. Timothy Coombs, Ph.D., Purdue University, researches and consults in the area of crisis communication.
He has published book chapters and articles on crisis communication, including two books: “Code Red
in the Boardroom” and “Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing and Responding.” He has
consulted with corporations in healthcare and petrochemicals in addition to work for the federal
continued on next page
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Audio Conference Worksheet continued
Michael Fineman, President, Fineman PR
330 Townsend St., Ste. 119
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 392-1000 ext. 21
(415) 392-1099 fax
Michael Fineman formed Fineman PR in 1988 in San Francisco and serves clients in consumer-facing
categories. He was named one of the nation’s leading crisis communications counselors by PR Week in
2004. His high profile crisis experience includes issues campaigns for Foster Farms Poultry related to
Avian Influenza, animal activists and labor actions, food safety issues for Odwalla and the packaged
salad industry, the reopening of embattled KPFA radio station in Berkeley, California, and for wine-related
businesses faced with product quality allegations. Michael’s annual “Top 10 PR Blunders List” advises
organizations on what not to do in crisis situations by highlighting each year’s most egregious public
relations blunders. The list has been featured in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time and the
continued on next page
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Audio Conference Worksheet continued
Steven B. Fink, President and CEO, Lexicon Communications; Author, “Crisis Management: Planning for
Steven B. Fink is one of the nation’s leading authorities in the areas of crisis management and crisis
communications. He is author of “Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable.” As president of Los
Angeles-based Lexicon Communications Corp. (www.CrisisManagement.com), he counsels some of the
world’s most prestigious companies in strategic public relations, crisis management, crisis
communication, and issues relating to economic espionage.
continued on next page
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Audio Conference Worksheet continued
1. Drawing Distinctions: Crisis Management Vs. Crisis Communications
2. Forecasting Crises: Conducting Audits and Vulnerability Assessments
3. Pinpointing Crises Spokespeople, Teams and Drafting Key Messages
4. Executing Pre-Crisis Training, Drills and Tests
5. Creating Crisis Materials; Elements of Successful Crisis Plans
continued on next page
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Audio Conference Worksheet continued
6. Managing Media & Publics: Key Communication Channels to Consider
7. Responding to Crisis: Typical Crises Sequences and How to React
8. Studying Best Practices: Lessons Learned from Recent Crises
9. Applying New Media Tools: Tips for Using the Internet and Web 2.0 During Crises
10. Post Crisis Management: How to Follow Through After Crises Erupt
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11. Bonus Ideas: Ensuring Good Decision Making Under Stress, Coping with Recalcitrant
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Bonus: Practical Reports from
the Archives of Bulldog Reporter
Crises Don't Follow the Calendar: instantaneous text messages and/or emails in the
event of an emergency; mental health services are
PR Must Be More Prepared being increased on many campuses; and freshmen
By Andrew Gilman, President, CommCore orientations now include more comprehensive
Consulting Group safety sessions.
It would be nice to think that crises mark the Regardless of whether your organization is in
calendar like the rest of us, leaving bad news the financial, athletic or academic arenas—or
behind to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne." none of the above—each crisis provides an
Unfortunately, like the excess pounds we gained opportunity to analyze what occurred and can
over last month's holidays and last week's Super offer direction for ways to avoid a similar event or
Bowl festivities, crises continue to follow and stay disaster.That said, here are some quick crisis
with us. guidelines:
Several crises from 2007 appear to have legs • Hold up the mirror. While we would all love
into 2008, and they remind us about the to think that a crisis will never happen to us,
importance of keeping crisis management history has shown that crises strike when least
strategies up-to-date.Three with the longest legs expected.As the above examples demonstrate,
are sub-prime mortgages; the performance some have staying power.The most important
enhancing drug scandal; and random violence on thing you can do is be prepared.Analyze the way
school campuses. others have weathered their crises, then hold up
the mirror to your situation. For example,Virginia
The sub-prime mortgage debacle shows no
Tech's events occurred in a relatively self-
signs of abating. Recent articles detailing the
contained area of Blacksburg,Virginia.A similar
financial freefall of major financial institutions and
crisis for Columbia University would involve a
news about mergers between mortgage lending
much different set of circumstances in New York
giants have consumers, economists and regulators
worried about the future. If the U.S. economy
lands in a recession, the 2007 sub-prime mortgage • Practice, practice, practice. A plan is only as
crisis will be considered a chief catalyst and good as its implementation. Once you have a solid
contributor. plan in place, drill on it. Communicate the strategy
internally so that everyone is aware of the chain-
Meanwhile, the performance-enhancing drug
of-command and message strategy. Be sure you
scandal leaves major league baseball with another
have a central place where you keep all key
set of Congressional hearings, and more current
parties' contact information so that in event of a
and former ballplayers with tarnished reputations.
crisis, you can spring into action.This roster can
Will Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds join Pete
be kept on an internal server and/or printed
Rose and Mark McGwire as athletes who deserve
copies of contact information can be handed out.
the Hall of Fame based on statistics, but can't get
in because of gambling or the drugs scandal? The • Focus on facts. Make sure that all key players
paradox:All the scandals have not impacted are kept informed. Second, while facts are facts,
baseball attendance, which hit an all-time high in communications teams that focus on what is
2007.Watch for any fallout. being done to control the hemorrhaging can go a
long way toward building internal and external
On the optimistic front, the tragedy of the
confidence. Speculating on negative outcomes or
Virginia Tech shootings prompted one of the most
focusing on hypotheticals can lead you down the
positive crisis prevention efforts in years.
rabbit hole. Instead, only speak to facts you know
Hundreds of schools have looked at the Virginia
or can confirm, stay on message and focus on the
Tech lessons to change their rapid response
things within your control.
systems. Cell phone and Internet technology is
being harnessed to allow students to receive • Think one message, many mediums. It's
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better to speak with one voice—especially if that mistakes. Other times, a team tested through
voice is the "Communicator-in-Chief." The leader simulation becomes marginalized when a real
who comes out in front of the troops, and delivers crisis happens and top management suddenly
a strong message does wonders for morale—both takes control. (Unfortunately, we too often witness
internally and externally.And it goes without senior managers who sponsor and invest in
saying that your website is a crucial tool in simulations, but do not participate nor benefit
making this happen—harness its power.Though from the exercise’s key learnings themselves.)
reporters may only pick up on one or two of your Thus, to truly improve the ability to manage
messages during a crisis, you can use your website crises, the company must focus on changing
or blog to tell the complete version of your story. mindsets and building behaviors. Simulations are
To conclude, crises often can't be prevented. a part of this equation, but a gold-standard
But they can be mitigated.The best policy, then, is capability cannot be achieved solely through a
to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and if “lightning in a bottle” exercise.
a flood comes, be ready with an ark and a path to Therefore, some of the most overlooked
higher ground. opportunities in crisis management are choosing
Andrew Gilman is a reporter and lawyer and the right learning program to fit your needs. In
president of CommCore Consulting Group, order to improve the total ability to manage
which is based in Washington, New York and crises, you must consider the following elements
Los Angeles. Andrew has provided counsel in when designing your learning program:
some of the most high-profile crises including • Goal-setting: pinpointing the areas for
Tylenol, SARS, and the Space Shuttle disasters. improvement?
This article appeared in • Programming for learning and
Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog. improvement: orchestrating programs that
For more information go to
You need to know what’s broken before
The Crisis Simulation: A Case of applying a fix.While simulations can help
companies identify barriers to success, they can’t
Mistaken Identity fix problems such as a lack of role clarity,
By James Donnelly, SVP, Crisis Management, organizational silos, or individual skill gaps among
Ketchum key crisis managers.
Crisis simulations are misunderstood. Let’s set As general rule, if an organization is trying to
the record straight—a simulation is not a panacea identify gaps in its crisis response capability, a
for improving an organization’s complete crisis simulation is probably the best bet.When the
management capability. objective is to improve organizational or
individual skills, a more holistic learning program
Certainly, simulations bring some benefits.A
should be considered. Refer to the following
greater appreciation for reputation management is
gained. Commitments to improve coordination
among departments are made. Crisis plans get A simulation is good for:
tweaked.And strategic insights are uncovered for • Testing the effectiveness and usability of a
prescribed scenarios. Good results, all. crisis plan ?• Ensuring comprehension and
However, without a broader learning and familiarity with a new crisis plan?• Gauging an
improvement program in place, these exercises organization’s information-sharing, leadership and
soon become distant memories of an intense response capabilities
workshop … and nothing more. Crisis plans don’t A more complete learning program may be
always get updated with key learnings gleaned better for:
from a simulation. Sometimes, real crises emerge • Understanding the mindset of effective crisis
and echo the elements of the mock exercise—and managers?• Improving the skills of individual
companies stumble through many of the same crisis management team members?• Helping
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managers learn behaviors that contribute to and lead teams in efficient implementation.This
success in managing crises ?• Equipping crisis builds confidence and makes it easier for the
managers to evaluate threats and make good participant to recall what’s necessary when a real
decisions?• Examining proven best practices?• crisis occurs.
Enhancing team work?• Promoting a more For this type of active learning, storytelling,
focused approach to specific types of situations realistic cases, visual examples and a lot of
practice (including smaller real-world exercises)
Programming for Learning and Improvement
are all required to embed information in a
Simulations need to be designed to achieve participant’s long-term memory, where it could
specific goals and therefore, they come in many actually be recalled in a crisis.
shapes, sizes and flavors.Too many to enumerate
here. 3. Sustainment Prog ram: a campaign to prolong
learning and facilitate improvement. Just like a
When focusing on broader learning programs, simulation is not a magic pill, a more robust
too many of us default to the standard seminar. learning intervention on its own isn’t enough.
And let’s face it—there are plenty of seminars Even the best “training” alone won’t eradicate a
available on crisis management. Unfortunately, the skill deficiency and measurably improve
participant is often left head-scratching over how performance. New behaviors must be coached
to operationalize anecdotes about the 25-year-old and sustained long after the learning event has
Tylenol case. concluded.
Real on-the-job impact and a modification of Note:A sustainment plan should include regular
attitudes, skills or behaviors can only come content refreshers, regularly scheduled simulations
through learning and improvement programs that to keep everyone sharp, and, importantly,
include three distinct phases: consideration of other factors affecting the crisis
1. Conditioning: It beg ins with an advanced team’s ability to perform.
assessment and individual ref lection. Conditioning In summary, simulations have not shared the
includes some pre-work that helps orient spotlight adequately with other forms of well-
participants by stimulating some thinking on crisis crafted learning programs, some of which provide
management.This phase allows crisis managers to better opportunities to improve a crisis
uncover strengths and weaknesses and “marinate” management capability. Organizations must
on a few provocative and challenging questions, to choose the right types of learning solutions to
be best engaged in the learning to come. achieve identified goals.
Note: Simulations rarely include this Ketchum and Stromberg Consulting have
conditioning phase.“Be ready for anything, brush collaborated on the Executive Crisis Management
up on your crisis plans and prepare to be Academy (ECMA)—the most comprehensive
challenged” is a common prelude to a simulation. program ever offered on the subject. For more
This is probably the wrong approach for some information contact:
organizations, especially those with inexperienced email@example.com.
staff in crisis management.This approach may
leave participants feeling overwhelmed, This article appeared in
vulnerable and determined to avoid future real Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog.
crisis management situations.
For more information go to
2. Active Lear ning: dur ing which exper ts teach www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog.
and coach. Most current crisis management
learning programs provide basic tactical guidance
(e.g., control the flow of information, verify facts,
and communicate quickly and often).This is a
Active learning should target the improvement
of the mindsets and behaviors of crisis managers.
This allows successful crisis managers to analyze
specific situations, design strategies to respond,
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Pet Food Contamination Lessons for relations if there was no proof of contamination?
Peppercom argued the other side—if the tests
PR: It's Not Always Easy to Do the came back positive both the FDA and customers
Right Thing would be upset and angry that they hadn't been
told earlier. Certainly, there were risks in notifying
By Ellen Snook, Management Supervisor, customers and the FDA at this point, but we felt in
Peppercom Strategic Communications the long run, it would serve them well. It was the
We've all seen it—fellow PR professionals, hard thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.
lawyers and lobbyists saying and doing what the Ultimately, our client listened to our advice.
client wants them to, regardless of how wrong it When their customers were notified, it was of a
is.This is especially challenging for PR potential issue—not of a full-blown crisis.They
practitioners, for we must consider the opinion had time to prepare for a recall situation, if
not just of our direct client contact during crisis necessary, rather than react in crisis mode.The
situations, but also of the client's legal counsel, FDA, too, was happy to be alerted so that they
CFO and CEO—all of whom will have their own could be proactive.
agendas and strong opinions.Yet to be considered
true strategic counselors, we must be brutally Once the word was out, we had another
honest with our clients, and tell them what constituent to deal with—the media.We began
actions we believe will be best for their receiving calls from local and national top-tier
company's reputation in the long run.Anything media, and our client did not want to talk.
else is just spin. Although Wilbur-Ellis is a $1.7 billion global
corporation, it's a family-owned business that is
Let me illustrate:This summer when we found unaccustomed to attention from the mainstream
ourselves in the middle of the second wave of pet media.Again, we stood firm—talking to the media
food contamination, I got a first-hand view of how would be difficult, but it was definitely the right
hard it could be at times to distinguish the right thing to do.And, it's Crisis 101:You do the talking,
thing from the wrong thing to do.What our and you control the message.
instinct and experience were telling us was right
was different than what the client thought would As the situation continued to unfold, it evolved
be best for their business—and more difficult for into a recall situation, and the media attention
their customers' businesses. intensified, not to mention the angry calls from
consumers. Fortunately, we were prepared and in
On the surface, it seemed cut and dry: Our control.To handle consumers, we had encouraged
client,Wilbur-Ellis, a San Francisco-based our client to set up an 800-number and keep their
agricultural product marketer and distributor, website updated with accurate information.
found a bag stamped "melamine" in a shipment of Dealing appropriately with angry customers not
rice protein from China. Melamine, as you will only was the right thing to do, but making sure
recall, was the chemical that had been found in they understood the situation and were placated
the wheat gluten used as an ingredient in pet meant better relations with Wilbur-Ellis'
foods and was thought to have caused the deaths customers.
of thousands of pets across the U.S.Wilbur-Ellis'
rice protein was also intended to be sent onto In the end, we did interviews with The Wall
manufacturers for use in pet food. Street Journal, New York Times,Washington Post
and AP, as well as with local network affiliates.
While Wilbur-Ellis immediately sent the Throughout the crisis,Wilbur-Ellis was treated
suspected product for testing, and halted all very fairly in the press. Several reporters
shipments from China, it was unclear what the complimented them on their willingness to speak
next steps should be. Should we go to the FDA with the media, as well as for being forthright and
without all the facts, knowing that customers honest. For Peppercom, it was a win-win situation.
would be pressured to recall product—possibly at The client appreciated our persistent advice and
great expense and harm to their reputation? Or has retained us for additional projects, and we've
should we keep quiet until all the facts were in? further developed relationships with key
Our client was inclined to keep quiet.Why reporters at top national and local news outlets.
cause alarm and possibly damage customer It's a lesson to the rest of the industry to
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position yourself as strategic counsel at the outdated tactic.
executive level—not just as a media handler. The point driven home during any urgent
Especially during a crisis situation, your client will communications event—in addition to
be in panic mode and relying on you to offer appropriately quick responsiveness and clarity—
sound, level-headed advice. Don't be intimidated has been the absolute need to use multiple
by a CEO saying how he or she thinks things channels for efficiently reaching key audiences,
should be. Let the CEO know how, with your utilizing all standardized forms of communication.
years of experience, you believe the situation It is also important to have the ability to get
should be handled—and don't be afraid to be confirmation a message was received.
straightforward and honest. In the end, your client
will thank you. Even though a lot is still to be learned about
communications during the early hours of April 16
This article appeared in when a mad gunman went on a killing spree at
Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog. Virginia Tech, what we are seeing is that relying
on one method of communications—email—to
For more information go to reach students, faculty and staff was not sufficient
www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog. or effective.
The leaders of Virginia Tech as well as many
Click of a Button Crisis other major universities, governments and
organizations are evaluating notification networks
Communications: New Media that will instantly communicate messages to tens
Makes Mass Notification Essential or tens of thousands of people anywhere, anytime
By David Henderson, Author, Making News and on any device—such as landline telephone,
cell or satellite phone, PDA, instant message (IM),
If there is an essential element in today's
pager, computer and fax—using voice and text
approach to crisis communications—in addition
communications.There is some discussion of
to clear, accurate and consistent messages—it is
including internal television and public address
the need for instantaneous delivery of important
systems and sirens although these are not
and often-critical information to audiences,
commonly associated with mass notification
sometimes to large numbers of people.What
networks today.The idea is a communications
better way to communicate while underscoring
network, accessible from anywhere, that can
transparency and responsiveness? It is akin to that
contact essential audiences with voice or text
long talked about concept of reaching the world
within minutes, not hours.
at the click of a button.
There are only a few companies today that offer
In the aftermath of nearly any event—from the
such services although recent events will no
horrific murders at Virginia Tech to FEMA
doubt bring a rash of startups.
attempting to respond to people stricken after a
natural disaster—questions often center around I spoke recently with Patrick Stuver, co-founder
communications and what could have been done of 3n, a Glendale, Calif., company that has quickly
better. It is human nature, I suppose, to second- grown to become the largest and only global
guess after the fact, and I have been guilty of it, as provider of instantaneous mass communications.
I suppose many of us have. Stuver, a long-time technology consultant, told me
that the idea behind 3n came out of 9-11, and the
When 9-11 happened, communications were
need to reach large numbers of people in a short
paralyzed in some parts of the country.A friend
period of time.
who is a member of congress told me that in her
Capitol Hill office, she had no landline telephone While the pieces of instant message delivery
or cell phone service and no Internet that day— have existed in one form or another, what Stuver
but her Blackberry still functioned as her only discovered during his initial research was the
form of communication. Nonetheless, in the need for one single system that would give a
aftermath of 9-11, some large organizations merely designated communicator the ability to record or
updated their manual phone trees as a core of write a message, select a recipient group and let
crisis communications planning, a woefully the network automatically sort out the best way
to reach everyone within moments. Furthermore,
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he envisioned a system that would confirm when Tragedy Communications: Virginia
a message had been received.As new
communications tools are developed and Tech's Use of New Media Tools
introduced—such as Apple's anticipated iPhone— Exemplary
the system would simply adapt and expand.
By David Henderson, Author, Making News
An urgent message carried over such a system
may, for example, reach you on your PDA, me via In the aftermath of the worst and most
email and a host of our colleagues in many other horrific handgun-killing spree in America's history,
ways but all at the same time, anywhere in the there should be no second-guessing or Monday
world. Stuver's company has that kind of network morning quarterbacking the crisis
up and running today. Many of its customers are communications of Virginia Tech University. By any
companies that use the speed and flexibility of standard, it was exemplary and should set new
the mass notification system for day-to-day standards for clear and concise crisis
communications needs during routine business. communications using the tools of New Media.
When you start thinking about the potential of By midday on Monday,April 16,Virginia Tech's
such a communication system, it is not limited just website was being updated constantly with
to crisis or emergency situations as much as it can information, alerts, directions and resources.The
be used for clear and consistent everyday university had posted the first of what would be
communications within an organization and its the first of many podcasts of statements from
various stakeholders. It is a method, for example, officials, including Tech's president, Charles W.
for a global corporation to interact immediately Steger.
with key personnel.
Within just a few hours, the university had
But the underlying importance is in crisis taken charge of its communications and was
communications—a system that reaches out to speaking with a clear and consistent voice. Even
any standard technological standard or platform before the deeply sorrowful task of identifying the
for interactive communication and delivers dead, those few early updates that the university
confirmation that messages are received. had were immediately communicated to the
It can become another evolving form of New information needs of students, faculty, parents, the
Media, perhaps one of tomorrow's leading multi- Blacksburg community and the world.There was
path tools of interactive communications for no speculation, just facts.
communities of people with shared interests, With the experience of years both as a
needs or missions. journalist and in strategic communications
David Henderson is an author, worldwide, I have never before witnessed an
national/international communications organization communicate more effectively during
strategist based in Washington, D.C., and an a tragedy and crisis of such a scale than Virginia
Emmy Award winning former CBS Network Tech.What struck me most was how the
News correspondent. His latest book, "Making leadership of the university managed to respond
News," focuses on the convergence of media so quickly and in such an efficient manner at a
relations in today New Media world.This article time when shock and grief tends to be
appeared on Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ’Dog overwhelming.
Tuesday morning,Tech President Steger was
For more information go to being interviewed by NBC's Matt Lauer on the
www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog. "Today" show. Even though Lauer pushed for an
explanation why the university had not "locked
down" (a prison term that is unfortunately applied
to our schools) the entire campus, Steger stuck to
clear, logical and consistent messages. He
explained to Lauer that with over 26,000 students,
Virginia Tech has the population of many towns,
and it would not be responsible to impulsively
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over-react without knowing all the facts. He gave This article appeared on
an exceptional interview to the talk show host, a Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ’Dog website.
former entertainment reporter at VH-1, who didn't
quite seem to comprehend. For more information go to
At the same time,Virginia Tech's site had been
given over completely to reflect the gravity of
events.The university's normal site was gone, and Crisis Lessons from Virginia Tech:
a new site provided even more information, often Social Media Critical in Reaching
updated every few minutes, about news,
memorials and events.
The site—which reflected simplicity and By Jon Harmon, Founder, Force for Good
clarity—had been divided into three sections: at Communications
the top, a series of remarkable photographs with Virginia Tech will never be the same after the
quotes from leaders; at the bottom, one section horrible shooting incident Monday. Neither will
labeled "The Latest" and another under the the practice of crisis communications at a
heading, "Resources/Related Content." In the university or other large institution.
latter, there was a new section, among many, that Virginia Tech President Charles Steger is coming
guided students and faculty to grief counseling under a lot of heat, most of it unfair in my
services. opinion, for the way the crisis was managed. But
This was not a stereotypical example of a unfair or not, the criticism from students, parents,
"dark site" brought to life, as some PR agencies alumni and others is part of this whole hellish
promote.VT-dot-edu was new in response to a week for Virginia Tech, and it demands a proper
crisis of unbelievable proportions and reflected response. Diane Sawyer asked Steger point blank
both the impact of what had happened and Tuesday on Good Morning America if he would
responsibly provided information leadership to resign.
the university community. Most of all, it was Much of the criticism has centered on how the
credible. university communicated to its students and other
By clicking on a link, you were taken to the stakeholders in the critical two-hour period before
site's "back-end" that was using blog and HTML the second shooting incident.
technology for instantaneous updates by multiple In countless interviews including this from the
people.There were transcripts and streaming AP, Steger has emphasized that the university
audio and video, and, yes, you could find elements closed off the dorm after the first attack and
of the university's normal site. It is unprecedented decided to rely on email to spread the word to the
in the history of crisis communications on the rest of the campus. Unfortunately, it apparently
Internet. took a precious two hours to send the emails.
Here's the important part: It was all being Most communications people likely would have
done within the university by a team of students followed a similar communications strategy,
and administrators working around the clock and relying heavily on email to reach students and
somehow finding the inner strength to manage others throughout the campus.We rely on email
their grief and emotions with a commitment to and certainly would check it frequently in time of
communicate accurately with the world. crisis. But that's not the way college students
David Henderson is an author, strategic communicate today.Talk to students at any
communications consultant and journalist based university if you don't believe it, but they rarely
in Washington, DC. His latest book, "Making check their email; they rely on Facebook. Students
News," provides an insider's perspective on may check their email just once a week and their
today's convergence of media relations, New Facebook account 30 or more times a day.
Media and the news industry.Visit his blog or Facebook was far and away the preferred
website for details. means of getting on-the-spot information for
students during the first critical two hours and
beyond, even after the mass media arrived on the
ATTENTION: It is unlawful to copy or electronically redistribute this page without express written permission from Bulldog Reporter. APRIL 24, 2008 15
scene and began blanket coverage. After you've done that, do the same thing at
Twenty-four hours after the shooting stopped, YouTube. On Google, you'll find that Taco Bell is
more than 500 Facebook groups had contributed leveraging pay-per-click advertising to grab the top
significantly to the global conversation about the sponsored link on the site for a variety of keyword
slayings. One group with an astounding 62,356 terms, including "Taco Bell" and "Taco Bell rats."
members, mostly students at other universities, Click on the "Taco Bell Responds" link and
encouraged all to wear VT school colors of you'll end up at the "Latest News" section of the
maroon and orange Wednesday, saying "Forget any Taco Bell website, where you can watch Emil
and all college affiliations today. For today we are Brolick, president of U.S.Yum! Brands, parent
all Hokies." The group also designated an AIM chat company of Taco Bell, issue an apology and
name of "TodayWeAreAllHokies" for a giant assurances of the standards of health and quality
instant-messaging conversation. at Taco Bell establishments (a tough sell these
These conversations were not only critical in days).
getting information to people who desperately Look for Taco Bell on YouTube, and you find
wanted it; they continue to shape the university's nothing from Brolick, but you do find plenty of rat
reputation with the global community of college footage. Conversely, JetBlue isn't leveraging
students, a critical constituency for any university. Google's pay-per-click engine at all to attempt to
Crisis plans often focus on the mass media with engage consumers on its recent tarmac crisis, but
inadequate thought paid to other important look at what it is doing on YouTube:The top link
stakeholder groups. Every large organization's returned in the "JetBlue" search results is "Our
crisis plan should include rapid means of Promise to You:A message to customers of JetBlue
communicating with all stakeholders, in the Airways from founder and CEO David Neeleman."
manner most effective for reaching each group. Though the story is several weeks old now, it still
Don't overlook social media, such as Facebook for bears saying: Nice work, JetBlue.
today's university students; myspace for today's Both companies have attempted to add a digital
high school students; and likely something else component to their crisis management efforts,
altogether tomorrow. JetBlue more effectively than Taco Bell. But in both
Jon Harmon is a consultant specializing in cases, these efforts appear to have dawned on the
crisis communications. He is a former Ford companies only after the fact.
public relations executive who handled media It's time now for organizations to establish a
and internal communications during the epic "Digital Crisis Management Strategy." While no one
Ford-Firestone tire crisis. Contact him at can anticipate the specific events, locations or
firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog, Force people involved in the next crisis, there is much
for Good. that can be anticipated about the general nature
of potential crises an organization might face.
This article appeared in
Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog. In advance of such crises, proactive
organizations can prepare content for "crisis
For more information go to information websites," ready to be deployed at a
www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog. moment's notice.And at the time of crisis, the
prepared organization can launch those websites
and drive the public to them by leveraging search
Rats! Stuck on the Tarmac! It's engines and social media. Using digital media, an
Time to Put Digital Crisis organization can manage the message and
influence public perceptions of its handling of a
Management at the Top of the crisis in a way not possible before.
Agenda Here are six steps you can take to prepare and
By Ed McLaughlin, Vice President, E-Business implement your organization's "Digital Crisis
Strategy at SVM E-Business Solutions Management Strategy"—before bad news strikes:
Just for kicks, try two things right now: Go to 1. Identify your dig ital crisis management team.
Google and search on "Taco Bell" and "JetBlue." Digital crisis management is going to require a
ATTENTION: It is unlawful to copy or electronically redistribute this page without express written permission from Bulldog Reporter. APRIL 24, 2008 16
team that has technical know-how and digital you with insights into the language of the
media savvy.You can rely on internal or external consumer as it relates to your industry, your
resources, but recognize that the team will need company and your products and services, which
to be made up of writers, digital designers, web may be different from your "corporate" language.
developers, audio and video producers, and You will use that research to populate the content
people with expertise in PR, crisis management of your crisis website, optimizing it for search
and online communications.You should form that engines.And when a crisis strikes, you will also
team now; don't wait for a crisis to occur. leverage those keywords to get top visibility and
2. Prepare cr isis infor mation websites around traffic from pay-per-click ads and social media
potential crisis topics. Imagine what could go sites.
wrong—and get ready. For example, a fast food 4. Identify your points of distr ibution. You will
company might create a website that anticipated a need to know in advance where you will be
crisis related to a food-born illness, such as an E- connecting with the consumer and media: Google,
coli outbreak.A consumer product company Yahoo, MSN (through their pay-per-click and news
might anticipate that one of its products is channels);YouTube, MySpace, blogs, podcast sites
recalled for safety reasons. and other social media sites; and online press
Such crisis sites should be designed to answer release distribution services.All these, plus
this question: "If a certain type of crisis occurs, whatever new online outlets emerge between
what information could we provide right now now and the time of your crisis, need to be
about that type of crisis that will help to assure identified.
the public that we are responsible and 5. Be launch-ready. The time to learn how to
conscientious corporate citizens, handling the manage a pay-per-click campaign, or post a video
crisis proactively, honestly and openly?" to YouTube is now, not in the heat of a crisis. Start
These websites should be designed as using an online press release distribution service
templates, leaving open the space that will be for your day-to-day media relations and be sure to
filled with information on the "who, what, where, pick a service that posts to the news sites of the
when and why" of an actual crisis.They should top search engines. Use podcasts, blogs and video
contain background information on your company casts now to promote your brand. Regularly
related to the type of crisis the site addresses. review and revise your crisis website's content.
Beyond informing the public during a crisis, these Incorporating these tools and practices into your
websites will help define your company on your work now ensures that you and your team will
terms, so the crisis and the media (new and old) know how to use them before a crisis.
don't become the only defining factors. 6. Launch! When a crisis strikes, your team rolls
In addition to background information, the sites into action.The first step is to incorporate
should include a media center where the press information on the actual crisis into the crisis
can obtain information related to the crisis.And it website, including the steps your organization is
should encourage visitors to sign-up for email taking to address it, and then to open that site to
notifications, keeping people up-to-date on the the public.You'll then leverage your knowledge of
crisis and allowing you to establish a one-to-one digital media and your points of distribution to
relationship with members of the public, immediately propagate your information on the
something valuable during and after the crisis. crisis online and drive people to your crisis
website, where you can engage them on your
Until a crisis strikes, these sites will be terms.The process or revising, appending and
inaccessible to the public, locked behind a distributing content will last until the crisis is
password protected login, but hosted on over.
production level web servers, ready to be opened
to the public at a moment's notice. When a crisis strikes, your company will be on
YouTube, on Google News, in blogs, popping up
3. Perform keyword resear ch. When a crisis on cell phones and handhelds—emerging
strikes, a company's ability to communicate wherever digital media can be created and
directly with the consumer is critical. Keyword consumed.The question isn't whether or not
research with tools commonly used by pay-per- digital media will have an impact on a company
click and search engine marketers will provide
ATTENTION: It is unlawful to copy or electronically redistribute this page without express written permission from Bulldog Reporter. APRIL 24, 2008 17
during crisis—it might even be the cause of a wrong places.
crisis.The question is, during a crisis, will digital It seemed JetBlue couldn't do anything right.
media manage your company or will you manage However, the company did one thing exactly
it? right: From the very beginning, it took full
Ed McLaughlin is vice president of e-business responsibility for the mess.The company's founder
strategy at SVM E-Business Solutions. He can be and CEO, David Neeleman, was out front from day
reached at: email@example.com. one taking the heat.There was no whining, no
legal department dancing.
This article appeared in
Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog. The New York Times reported five days into the
event that, "Neeleman, his voice cracking at times,
For more information go to called himself 'humiliated and mortified.'" With all
www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog. flights up and running on the sixth day, the
JetBlue chairman made the rounds of the media
with a plan in place to deal with future
JetBlue Has a Johnson & Johnson catastrophic events.
Moment JetBlue will recover.That's what good
By Bill McKibben, Senior Partner, Business companies do when things go wrong.They do the
Ethics Practice, The Great Lakes Group right thing ... and they recover. Like all good
It was the best of weeks and the worst of companies, JetBlue's values are rooted at the top
weeks for JetBlue.The airline was one of the 28 and they run throughout the organization.As
companies that made the final cut into Firms of Neeleman noted on CNN's "American Morning,"
Endearment.The long awaited book identifies the "It's not really what happens to you, it's how you
very best companies in the country based on a react to it."
range of standards that we should all be striving A quarter of a century ago, Johnson & Johnson
for.The book was released on February 9th. Just (another of the 28 companies that made the final
five days later, the company was mired in a cut into Firms Of Endearment) became a public
customer service nightmare. Flights at New York's relations icon with its response to the Tylenol
JFK airport were snarled in an ice storm that tragedy. My money is on JetBlue to be the next PR
ended up leaving JetBlue and other airlines poster child for transparent communications in
gridlocked. times of crises.Wouldn't it be nice if these
Two factors thrust JetBlue into the forefront of common sense responses became commonplace?
the public relations maelstrom. First, the carrier is Nothing stands in the way of that goal but finding
a major player at JFK, so it had a lot of flights the courage to do the right thing no matter how
enmeshed in the situation.The second factor was bad things look.
a bad judgment call.They bet on the weather Bill McKibben is Senior Partner, Business
getting better.That would allow JetBlue's flights to Ethics Practice, with The Great Lakes Group in
take off, albeit late.The alternative was to unload Buffalo, New York. His book, "Play Nice, Make
the passengers at the gate and cancel the flights. Money", will be published this spring. Contact
They lost the bet.The result:They sent planes full him at 716.883.4695 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
of passengers away from the gates to wait on the This article appeared in
tarmac for as much as nine hours. Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog.
As the storm settled in, the situation was
complicated by the glut of planes on the ground. For more information go to
The freezing rain encased everything.The tractors www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog.
used to move planes around literally froze to the
pavement. Meanwhile, the snack foods aboard the
planes were gone, the bathrooms were kaput, and
the passengers were hot, physically and
emotionally. JetBlue was simply overwhelmed.The
domino effect carried on for days. Crews and
aircraft were scattered across the system in all the
ATTENTION: It is unlawful to copy or electronically redistribute this page without express written permission from Bulldog Reporter. APRIL 24, 2008 18