I am really looking forward to the next Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) annual conference. The networking, parties, and even the lunch menus are always great. But as a certified media trainer, I am particularly interested in what examples the speakers will use for crisis management case studies and best practices.
The most recent faux pas in crisis management can be found with the rollout of the new Affordable Health Care Act website. According to POLITICO, PR firms “… with clients in industries ranging from health care to electronics, published a guide titled “Obamacare and Health Insurance Exchanges: A PR Makeover’’ with tips large and small – from holding more news conferences to creating an infographic explaining the benefits of the new law — for what the White House should have done to tamp down the fallout.”
Like many PR managers, I still analyze my first crisis. It was in 2005 when I was the newly promoted communications chief for a local government agency. While I don’t waste any time (or will I waste any space in this post) scrutinizing every misstep, I do use it as a great case study when training or advising other managers of what not to do. I also share with them the most important lessons that I learned from attending a host of PR workshops and conferences. One of those lessons came from one of PR’s pioneers in crisis management, Mr. James E. Lukaszewski who has personally counseled thousands of executives representing the government, military and defense, agriculture, financial, health care, and telecommunications industries.
In 2006, I attended one of PRSA’s annual conferences and was very impressed with Mr. Lukaszewski. I was especially impressed with his experience with helping to prepare spokespersons for crucial public appearances on news outlets like 20-20, 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, and Nightline. I couldn’t wait to see a spokesperson that I had personally trained succinctly communicating each message point; and successfully bridging to the next one, while avoiding those horrible non-verbal cues. As a result of my 2005 crisis, I was determined to emulate Mr. Lukaszewski’s ‘e911’ culture by making sure that we [my organization] were prepared by pro-actively reducing reputation risk. And if and when a crisis occurred, we [my organization] would be prepared to respond rapidly.
During a crisis, Lukaszewski says: “The first thing that you should remember during a crisis is to tell it all, tell it first and tell the truth.”
I have learned—through the over seven years of managing crises— that it is always best when a mistake has been made to admit it up front, and begin doing whatever is possible to re-establish credibility and confidence with your internal and external stakeholders. It is just a suggestion; but other PR managers may do well to follow.