Why oldtime crisis managers don't get it

It's not in my style to disparage anyone else in this business. But I've been saying for sometime now in my presentations and writings that one of the biggest problems with crisis communication strategies is the media-centric focus. Sure, the main stream media (msm) are still very important. But they are NOT the whole game. And yet it seems that the most revered names in the PR industry who are respected experts in crisis management don't seem to get this.

Here's an example I just came across from a website of a firm that touts itself for expertise in crisis managment.

Our team of specialists will work 'round-the-clock, if necessary, to craft strategy, draft the appropriate language and contact the media. We are acutely aware that unanswered "bad" news—whether true or false—can inflict long-term damage in a very short time on an organization's image or an individual's character.

We are highly skilled in quickly identifying the salient points that must be addressed and in determining the manner of delivery most likely to counter the crisis at hand. By disseminating the correct message to key journalists, we are able to help significantly reduce the intensity of a crisis so that an organization may return as swiftly as possible to its day-to-day business operations.

It probably sounds alright to most but there is obviously no recognition that in today's crises, the key is not ONLY media but the management of messages to multiple stakeholder groups. People today who are affected by an event expect to hear directly from you. Somehow they expect that you have the resources and thoughtfulness to communicate with them directly via email, focused web messages, even telephone if needed.

Years ago, the Russian people, just recovering from the closed days of Communism nearly came unglued over the Kursk submarine disaster. Why? Because the families had to learn about the fate of their sons through the media!

A major oil company came under fire when fenceline neighbors next to a refinery that had a major fire didn't get their emails responded to until two weeks after the event. Their emails had asked a simple question–should we evacuate? Somehow, those neighbors had the idea that the oil company had the capability and willingness to respond to that straightforward and urgent request. These people don't expect to turn on their TVs and wait for the evening news to tell them if they should get the hell out of Dodge. And yet, that's how the old timers in the crisis business tend to think about things.

3 thoughts on “Why oldtime crisis managers don't get it”

  1. There are a couple of ways to look at this. Iagree that stakeholders want to be informed directly instead of reading about it in the newspaper. In fact, I think we owe them the courtesy of direct information.

    But it’s also important to remember that the media is not in business to serve us; they are here to make money. As such, they will present the most interesting version of the story. (With luck, you’ll get reporters that at least try for facts.) What gets published may only remotely resemble what we intend. As we know, there are many “sources” for the media to choose from in a crisis (such as doomsday citizens and blogs like this), so the chances of us having any control over what actually gets pushed to the public are pretty slim.

    Unless we set an objective to be the first, most reliable source of information about our organizations, we are relying on an unpredictable media to communicate our message. It is OUR websites, OUR emails, and OUR answers to stakeholder questions that allow us to control our message and keep things from spinning out of control even more.

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