|Crisis Management Requires More Speed than Ever Before.|
By Judy Hoffman
Wednesday, 1st August 2007
A decade isn’t what it used to be - think of the big changes we've seen in those ten years in terms of how you should handle a crisis; and one thing stands out above all others, the impact of the Internet.
It’s a Curse
When I was the Manager of Public Affairs and corporate spokesperson for a chemical manufacturing company -- and when I started to teach my workshops back in the 90' -- I could tell my company and my clients that they didn’t have to rush into answering questions of reporters. They could accept what the reporters wanted to know and promise to get back to them in time for their deadline. Then they could huddle, spend whatever time they had gathering the facts, developing statements, running them past the decision makers (and lawyers), and responding to the reporters in time to make the 6 a.m., 3 p.m. or 10 p.m. deadline. They would still be thought to be responsive.
The Internet has a 24/7/365 kind of deadline. Breaking news goes up on the web almost instantaneously. Taking your time putting your story together and getting it out to the media is now a luxury we can not afford.
There are many different news channels competing to “scoop” everyone else. This ratchets up the pressure on the subjects of those stories. Many times it isn’t easy to gather the facts quickly, especially if the situation is chaotic in terms of a sudden explosion or fire. You do need to be able to confirm facts before you give them to the news media or you run the risk of spreading false information or being inconsistent and having to retract things, thus damaging your credibility.
It’s a Blessing
As much of a problem as the Internet presents, thankfully it is also part of the solution. For the past few years I have been advising my clients – almost all of whom have web sites for their businesses – that they need to establish a “dark page” on their web site. This is a section of the site that could be activated by any authorized management employee so that information relative to a breaking incident could be addressed quickly.
The media has come to expect that they will get answers to their questions by looking at the company’s web site. They don’t have time to wait until the company president can wake up the IT staff person and get him or her to physically come into the office to get things going.
In the past few months, I have become aware of a much more effective and helpful tool to aid organizations in communicating quickly and responsibly. It is called the Public Information and Emergency Response (PIER) system, run by a company called AudienceCentral whose business it is to enhance internal and external communications, especially during a crisis.
When Hurricane Dennis slammed the Gulf Coast earlier this month, it left an oil-drilling rig owned by BP and Exxon/Mobil broken and listing dangerously out at sea. BP was already a customer of AudienceCentral. Within 15 minutes of BP notifying AudienceCentral of the incident, the company’s communications professionals had access to their PIER web site. They got busy investigating the situation and developing the content of press releases, got them approved, and had the information the media needed to know posted on their web site within four hours. (See bpissuenews.com for an example of what this looks like and how it works.)
Unfortunately BP also had a previous occasion to use their PIER system. You may remember the March 23rd explosion and fire that killed 15 workers and injured another 100 at their refinery in Texas City, TX. At their site bpresponse.org , the media and the frightened residents in the area had access to the most recent news available. The site was updated periodically – first a few times a day, and then weekly – with the status reports of the investigation into the accident, letters from the CEO and Plant Manager, etc. The PIER system can also help you track and respond to inquiries from the media and the public.
The U.S. Coast Guard employs the PIER system as do a number of major chemical manufacturers and other industries. It is also useful for developers who are attempting to get approvals for big projects. Posting information on the site and having a way to counteract rumors being circulated by those who oppose their project has been instrumental in the support of Cabela’s, a store that wants to build in a suburb of Denver. (See cabwheatridge.com )
If the News Media Expects to See You on the Web, You Had Better Be There!
Yes, the world has changed a lot in the last decade. In some ways, it makes it tougher on those of you who have to deal with fast-breaking situations. Luckily, some bright people are coming up with ways technology can meet those challenges. If you’d like to find out more about this organization please go to audiencecentral.com and take their virtual tour. Whether or not you decide to sign up for their services, you will learn a great deal about the types of things you should be prepared to do when the time comes that a crisis hits your organization.
If you want more details, call 360-756-8080 and ask for Jamie Imus. Tell him Judy sent you and he will give you a free virtual tour and demonstrate what PIER can do for you. Oh wait, he’d do that anyway…oh, well, tell him Judy sent you and it will make you and me both happy (see Special Note below).
Special Note: By way of full disclosure, I want to tell you that I have a formal working arrangement with the folks from two different organizations -- Community Alert Network (CAN) which I have told you about previously, and now AudienceCentral. I believe strongly in the value of the services that they can offer my clients and colleagues and business acquaintances, so I am willing to promote them in my workshops and writings.
In return, they have promised that – should someone I recommend them to become a client – they will provide me with a small remuneration. All of you who know me hopefully realize that I would never jeopardize my reputation by recommending an organization which was not of the highest quality.
Note: Permission is hereby granted to forward, print, circulate, or quote materials from this article as long as credit is provided as follows: Judy Hoffman of JCH Enterprises. Copyright (C) 2005 JCH Enterprises, Judy Hoffman, Principal. www.judyhoffman.com
Author of book "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis" and CD "Dealing Effectively with Angry People"
Phone: (845) 928-8239 Fax: (845) 929-3463