On November 30, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Southcentral Alaska, shutting down power, landlines, and several major roads. However, fewer than 24 hours later, Anchorage was back on its feet, with stores reopened, Internet available, and residents able to communicate and even commute. I even enjoyed a beverage from my favorite espresso drive-through fewer than five hours after the ground heaved and buckled.
Crises like natural disasters beg the question: why do some businesses and organizations recover quickly, while others don’t? How does a large-scale company like GCI organize and mobilize its workers and technicians to get communities back online in so short a time? The answer is a well-rehearsed crisis communication plan. When everyone in an organization knows exactly how to react in a given situation, recovery is easier and more organized.
Creating a plan need not be a long and arduous ordeal. Putting together a simple list of directions helps employees know their company is prepared for any sort of disaster. And crisis communication plan isn’t just for natural disasters. For instance, if a company higher-up makes an embarrassing faux pas, protocol is in place for handling it. This can mean anything from rules about social media posts, to responsibilities for handling questions asked by journalists.
People like to appear knowledgeable. Everyone enjoys being able to contribute to a discussion, even when they don’t know all the facts. This is evident in skimming the comments section of any online news article.
But what about when not speaking just for yourself, but instead for a company or an organization? Lying is unethical, plain and simple, and should never be a course of action when faced with a crisis situation. So, what do you do when, say, a reporter asks for information you do not have? Do you attempt to redirect to a different topic, or act as though you know an answer when you definitely do not?
It’s hard to admit you don’t know the answer when you are viewed as an expert, but that is usually the right thing to do. Naturally, if you are asked a question, you can’t just say “I don’t know. Next?” However, “I don’t have that information in front of me, but I can get back to you,” works entirely differently. In both scenarios, the question technically goes unanswered and you admit lack of information, but one of the two answers has accountability behind it. Of course, when using the second, you absolutely MUST get back to the questioner with the information they requested, or you’re back where you started.
In the end, truth wins and lying leads to consequences. According to PR Professional Jim Lukaszewski, “Somebody always knows, but waits to speak up until the worst possible time.” Which is worse: Admitting you don’t have the answer immediately to one of any hundred possible questions? Or providing false information and being called out on it in front of the world? The answer is obvious.
September is ethics month for members of the Public Relations Society of America, the public relations industry’s professional trade organization. Even though ethical practices are mandatory every day, the month is set aside to focus specifically on how communicators can meet high ethical standards when the rules seem to change quickly.
In that spirit, Blueprint Alaska has compiled a checklist for communicators who insist on upholding the core values of ethical practice of public relations, including advocacy. Read More
What is advocacy, anyway? And why should a company or organization care about it?
Let’s use some examples to make the case.
A company finds itself in the middle of a public policy debate due to a piece of legislation that will seriously impact its business. Company managers try to rally employees to the cause, but are baffled when they receive a lukewarm reception.
An organization is dealing with an issue that could negatively impact its reputation, jeopardizing the bottom line. Usually content to stay off the radar, the company doesn’t know where to start, and reaches out to colleagues for help. The organization’s leaders are surprised by the lack of support they receive.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a crisis drill for a client. During these drills, companies practice for an emergency by pretending to deal with a real one, and incorporating lessons learned into their crisis plans. It’s an excellent way to keep skills sharp and ensure that everyone knows what to do in the event of a real emergency.
Crisis training and drills are nothing new- companies have been doing them for years. On the public relations side, practitioners have worked to master their communication skills to be ready for a bona fide crisis: sample press releases are drafted, media contact lists developed, and interviews rehearsed. What struck me during this most recent drill was the introduction of social media, meaning a simulated (read: not real) social media blitz resulting from the drill’s scenario. Just like social media has disrupted the news business by empowering citizens to report and discuss their own news, the injection of social media into the crisis drill was also extremely disruptive. I loved it.