Crisis Communication

Archive for May 2009

A few notes from the crisis media relations workshop I attended with Dr. Joseph V. Trahan, III, APR, Fellow:

The word crisis in Chinese means dangerous opportunity.

When planning or working through for a crisis, you should

  • Anticipate
  • Coordinate
  • Cooperate
  • Communicate

The three C’s of media relations

  • Control
  • Competence
  • Concern

When it comes to preparing for questions, know the 5x5x5. Be prepared with five points you want to push out, five bad things you expect to reply to and five ugly things you hope you won’t be asked. If you prepare the answers to at least 15 questions before an interview, you’ll be better prepared.

The two most important things for the interview are continuity and consistency of the message. Other important areas of crisis communication include:

  • Security-what can’t be released and why
  • Accuracy-tell what you need to know, just the facts, don’t speculate
  • Propriety-protect family identities, especially until the next of kin has been identified
  • Policy-only disagree with policy behind closed doors, never disagree on the record

Messages need to be:

  • Consistent—stick with one label for the situation
  • Short
  • Jargon-free
  • Clear
  • Honest
  • Simple
  • Includes key points and information

The Bhopal gas tragedy would be a nightmare of a case to handle. At the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, toxic gases were released. More than 2,000 people died immediately. It is estimated that 8,000 died within the two weeks following in addition to the approximate 16,000 more who have died from disease related to the incident. It is said that the crisis was caused by an sabotage.

From a crisis communications standpoint, getting a good idea of the situation would have been difficult considering the distance between India and the US (Hendrix). Considering this, I think a decent job managing the crisis was done.

According to Hendrix, Union Carbide made some very important decisions early on. The company decided to accept responsibility using an attachment/forgiveness strategy and provide aid to victims. I think this strategy was very effective because it showed the public that they were not denying what had happened and gave people the feeling that Union Carbide would attempt to take care of the situation.

It also was decided to be available to and share information with the media. Union Carbide:

  • Held press conferences
  • Hosted press tours
  • Had key people available for interviews
  • Issued press releases

In the book Public Relations Cases by Hendrix, the fact sheet shown has a large amount of information and is organized effectively. Although the incident occurred more than 20 years ago, the same principles apply: short, concise writing.

Included in the fact sheet is information on the incident, the cause, who is taking responsibility, legalities, settlement information, relief efforts, medical assistance, medical effects, status of the plant in Bhopal and litigation.There also is environmental and safety information about the company’s safety record, safety and environmental goals and achievements and improvements made to training and procedures.

Union Carbide also had to keep its internal audiences informed, which was done through employee news bulletins, employee publications, video messages, newsletters, annual stockholder meetings and individual letters and phone calls.

Now, Union Carbide would have to worry about blogs, Twitter and more. From the standpoint of 20 years ago though, this case was handled probably the best it could have been considering the number of deaths and distance from the incident.

Source: