6 Spokesmen on Communicating During a Critical Crisis

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees hold an emergency meeting about Hurricane Sandy at the company's headquarters in Bentonville last October. (Photo by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.)

Corporations, nonprofits, universities, politicians and others in the public eye aren’t just there to communicate when things are going well. They have to make themselves visible during times of crisis as well.

Troubled times can take on many forms — natural disasters, infidelity, mismanagement — but no matter the form, communication is key. Arkansas Business visited with professional communicators locally and nationally to find out what they think is critical in crisis:

"If you’re engaging your constituencies proactively, you’ve got the lines of communication already open. You don’t have to create them. If you have them established in the good times, you already have that engagement and relationship in place. So you can share information and then resume that relationship.”
John Diamond, associate vice chancellor for university relations at the University of Arkansas
"“It’s just like having a stroke: You only have so many hours to seek treatment before you have irreparable damage.”
Jordan Johnson, senior vice president, director of strategic communications for Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods
"“You have to have a strong plan in place, but it’s important to be versatile and flexible. If you’re not flexible, you’re missing opportunities to be most effective.”
Mark Scott, public relations manager for Sam’s Club
"“The Commandments work with one another and, as such, begins with the most important Commandment, Full Disclosure, which submits that in a crisis being the party that actually puts out the damaging information and takes responsibility is the party that is going to put itself in the strongest position to be able to win back the trust of its core audience. In a crisis, you are being evaluated by how you handle a problem going forward — and those that handle it in a credible way are going to have a much better shot at proving they are worthy of being trusted.”
Chris Lehane, political consultant, former Clinton administration staff member and co-author of “Masters of Disaster: The 10 Commandments of Damage Control.”
"“Sometimes you have to take a little more time than is comfortable to make sure you get it right. We don’t have the luxury of being wrong. We are working to be very careful about getting the right information out as quickly as possible.“
Kevin Trainor, director of public relations, University of Arkansas
“Having a crisis plan has always been important, but it is absolutely critical in the era of breaking news and social media. I would argue that 95 percent of crises are foreseeable and organizations should have a plan for crafting and distributing messages quickly and openly to important stakeholders.”
Steve Dittmore, University of Arkansas professor, co-author of the textbook “Sports Public Relations: Managing Stakeholder Communication”



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