Crisis Communications: Planning Essential to Weather PR Storms

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 12:00 am  

"Hopefully, you're not doing something you need to cover up," Taylor said. "But the media are just doing their jobs, so you need to get the information out there quickly, and you need to get it out there accurately, because if you don't, somebody else will get it out there and it may not be accurate. It may not be the story you want portrayed."

Working for the Public
Taylor added that UAMS, a publicly funded institution, and its communications team "work for the media too. We work for the institution, certainly. And we try to portray the institution in the best light that we can and we think it's wonderful.

"But, at the same time, without the media, without the bloggers, without people calling us, we don't have jobs. And we work for them, and part of our job is to get accurate information out there."

UAMS has another constituency to which it must be accountable: the public. In communicating bad news - or any news - Taylor said, "you also have to look at it from the perspective of the person reading or watching the interview. What are they going to think? So that's why it's really important to get the accurate information out there."

If a business or other organization determines that it's made a mistake and straightforwardly - and quickly - acknowledges the error, the public can be forgiving, Douglass said.

"It gives you a sense of credibility ..., that you can be trusted. And it does ultimately come down to trustworthiness," he said.

"Corporations can be forever damaged if they just trickle little things out as they are forced to. So the more information you can share and the quicker you share it, the public in general and customers in particular appreciate that candidness," Douglass said.

Not Just a River in Egypt
Asked why organizations deny, stonewall and, sometimes, straight out lie after they've determined they've made errors, Frank Cox of Hendrix had a one-word answer: "Fear."

He elaborated:

"People are afraid of the consequences of the truth when in fact the consequences of not telling the truth are usually much, much greater. If something happened or it was bad news, I would rather put it out there and describe how we were going to deal with it."

Taylor, of UAMS, is pragmatic.

"I just think the best thing is to be honest and get the information out there. I am not saying you have to put out a press release saying, ‘Look, we messed up.' But at the same time, it's better to control the message, and you can't control the message if you try to sweep it under a rug," she said.



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