Disaster Strikes, PR Cleans It Up

Whether it is a hurricane, flood, oil spill, or corporate mess (because we all know there are plenty of those), one of the main jobs of a PR practitioner is to use their skills to assist in managing the crisis. In a recent article in PRSA’s online publication Public Relations Tactics, intern Philip Volmar describes the tactics used by three PR professionals who have had to deal with crisis management on a large scale. Volmar does this to compare the PR response of the recent BP oil spill with the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.

Volmar begins by quoting John Deveney, head of the Deveney Communications firm, who dealt with the PR aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Deveney said, “What we’ve learned from Hurricane Katrina is that we need to have a one-voice strategy.” Deveney also comments on how impressed he is that media outlets, businesses and local governments have successfully proved to have one collective voice on how to handle the disaster at hand.

Volmar continues by quoting regional PR Director of MGM Mirage Mississippi Operations Mary Cracchiolo-Spain who said, “Perception becomes reality for some people. Key challenges are dispelling rumors and responding to negative media coverage.” According to James E. Lukaszewski, president of the Lukeszewski Group, “All crises follow patterns — from robberies to weather disasters — that you can use to forecast and plan for [other] crises.”

So what does all this mean? What should any PR novice take away from what the professionals are saying? Volmar combined the collective experiences of Lukaszewski, Deveney, and Cracchiolo-Spain to outline the following points when managing a crisis of any size:

Communicate with core audience. During Katrina, MGM spent the first 48 hours relinking communications with the public by establishing an 800 number and creating a website dedicated to the crisis. Now for the oil spill, the company rerouted the hurricane hotline to a new oil-spill information center.

Form strategic partnerships. Deveney said that in Louisiana, coastal parishes are coming together with other stakeholder groups to conduct media monitoring and image audits.

Establish a hub for information. To reduce the amount of media volume on a crisis, develop a one-stop source for simplified facts, background information, story ideas, contacts and news releases. The Mississippi Beyond Katrina website is an award-winning example.

Be sympathetic to employee needs. Don’t forget that a crisis can impact human lives in addition to the bottom line. Communicating with employees will prevent rumors, and trust will flow to your audience.

Define roles. The leader must be empowered to make executive decisions, and the spokesperson must set the tone for the crisis.

Validate victims. One way to manage the victim relationship is simply to apologize — early and quickly. Often, a public apology is all that is needed. “Apologies are the atomic energy of empathy,” Lukaszewski said. “Apologies limit litigation and settle people down.”

To see the original article or to learn more about crisis management, click here.

This guest blog was written by staff member Michele Reilley.

1 thought on “Disaster Strikes, PR Cleans It Up

  1. Great recap Michele! I actually follow PRowl so it was a double-take to see the article linked here. Thanks for reading Tactics.

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