Looking at the news today, one crisis situation sticks out the most to me: Murder-suicide at college.
My first thought is that all colleges are affected by situations like this one. As a college student, my immediate thought is “this could happen here too.” I can’t imagine how a parent might feel.
A student was shot at Henry Ford Community College last Friday. The shooter then shot himself.
The school quickly used its emergency cell phone and e-mail system to alert students. Classes later in the day were cancelled.
Having worked for a university’s public relations department, I know how important student safety is. Central Michigan University has an emergency alert system that students can sign up for to receive e-mail, text or a phone call in the case of an emergency. At the beginning of the fall semester, we had computers in the university center and encouraged students and their parents to sign up.
The front page of the HFCC Web site. The first two paragraphs conscisely explain what happened. Below it is the “important information” section about classes resuming, grief counseling, the closing of the building that the shooting took place in, and information about contributions to the funeral. This is followed by a two-paragraph message from the president.
At the 2008 PRSSA National Conference, I sat through a session with Jeffrey Douglas, who handled the Virginia Tech shootings and have written a blog post about it.
Although this is a much smaller event, I recall Douglas’ discussion about the school’s Web site. It was one of the most important places to have information available for the students. I think this school has done a great job with it.
I haven’t been able to find much additional information about the crisis yet. It seemed to have been handled efficiently at HFCC. But, I think other schools are going to be doing their own crisis communication to reassure students and parents that their campuses are safe and that there are systems in place in case of emergency.
The chairman and CEO of Mattel, Inc., Robert A. Eckert, speaks at the University of Arizona about his crisis communication with toy recalls in this recorded lecture. I think it gives an interesting view on how companies handle crises.
First of all, skip to 5:12 (unless you want to hear the dean speak and then hear about the speaker’s summer vacation).
Lead paint and powerful magnets are two things that have caused dangerous problems to children in the toy industry.
If you don’t want to watch the entire lecture, below are the subjects and times. If anything, at least watch 29:00 to 33:25 about the lessons Mattel learned about the recall crisis.
- About the failure of a routine lead paint test and what they did (12:50)
– Recalled 83 toys
– Followed by another recall two weeks later
- Recalled magnet toys that did not meet standards (15:20)
– Newspaper ads, letter from Eckert to reach publics and video from Eckert
-The media coverage about the 9 million toy recall (18:40-25:15)
- Regulators and Legislators (25:16)
– Public hearing conclusion by Senator Durbin (27:05)
- Scope of the situation (28:25)
- Lessons learned (29:00-33:25)
- Results (33:26)
- Q&A (35:10)
Check out this short video, Corporate Advisory Insight: Crisis Communications, by Thomson Reuters for tips and pointers on handling a crisis.
Here are a few points I learned from Arzu Cevik :
- Be proactive
Know how things work within your organization and start building relationships with the media before a crisis hits. Also, have a team of people ready to delegate important tasks to.
- Know what is going on
What is actually happening? What can we tell people? How does this affect the public and other stakeholders?
- Be consistent
Convey one simple, consistent message and be prepared to answer the tough questions.
Genentech could have a possible crisis on its hands due to the recent public health advisory for its drug Raptiva, which treats psoriasis. The company appears to be handling it well.
WebMD says, “According to the FDA, there have been three confirmed and one possible case of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in people taking Raptiva; three of those people died.”
The FDA issued a warning about Raptiva last October.
There is not yet much information about this. In the articles I have come across have responses from spokespeople, who assure readers that Genentech is working with the FDA.
I think this could evolve into a problem if Raptiva is found to be the cause of PML, and if more people die from the drug.
Controversy followed the reorganization of Facebook’s terms of service last week.
I recall seeing several posts on Twitter about “Facebook TOS.” There also were many blog posts and coverage in traditional media.
Facebook handled this crisis well. As criticism became apparent, Facebook polled users and then evaluated the options. Further work could be done to clarify the new terms of service, or, Facebook could return to its previous terms of service.
I think returning to its previous terms of service was the best choice. Facebook let its users know that their concerns were heard. Facebook also found ways to take action. It is inviting users to contribute to the next terms of service.
Lastly, the Facebook founder and CEO was visible. He wrote a blog post about the concerns of the users.