Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Crisis PR: Most Are Unprepared

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Crisis PR: Most Are Unprepared

Article excerpt

When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

This quote, attributed to John F. Kennedy, is the perfect description of a crisis event when it hits any kind of organization large or small.

As a veteran public relations counselor, I've learned over the years that few organizations are prepared for a crisis event. By mid-year of 1994, the news media had reported that vitamin supplements are useless; movie house popcorn could kill you; a gas pipeline in Edison, N.J., had blown up; Amtrak had yet another derailed train; and U.S. jets had shot down their own helicopters in Iraq.

Not all crisis events are spectacular or national in scope, but they can have a devastating effect on a company's reputation, whether it's large or small. For example, in a small, New Jersey shore town, the borough engineer and elected officials had spent seven months fending off verbal attacks by a citizens' group which was convinced they were poisoning everyone by introducing cancer-causing agents into the water.

Their crime was that they had sponsored the rehabilitation of a small section of the water treatment plant's pipe system with an innovative process that had won a top award the previous year in Great Britain. Never mind the endless documentation supporting the project, the controversy raged on until I was called in to apply crisis communications techniques.

Within a month, the largest daily newspaper serving the shore town assigned two investigative reporters to the story. Their article, which demolished the false claims of the citizen's group, favorable court decisions, and other factors effectively put an end to the turmoil.

In lectures around the nation, I keep repeating the mantra that the only public relations that works is the truth. This is not the popular perception of crisis public relations, which is often seen as twisting the truth in some fashion. However, the truth, in itself, is not sufficient to avert a crisis in communication.

Here are some basic principles of crisis communications:

* In an era when any news story occurring anywhere in the world can become national and international news within minutes after it breaks, it is essential to develop and maintain a rapport with those news media organizations local to your interests and national in terms of their outreach and influence. …

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