© 2009 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 18,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
If the threat of Swine Flu doesn't motivate you to be better prepared for similar future threats, just because it didn't affect you this time, then you might consider the possibility that your professional judgement is, in fact, quite ill.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: Smart editor! As a consultant and someone the media considers to be an "expert source," I've been enjoying Peter Shankman's brilliant HARO (Help a Reporter Out) media lead list since it launched. But it only recently occurred to me to submit a lead to HARO wearing my editor's hat, inviting the submission of crisis management-related case histories for this ezine. I received a number of outstanding entries, two of which I bring you in this issue. More soon, and thank you HARO!
The Flying Pig Crisis
By Betsy Ross
"We may have to delay the Marathon at least three hours."
Few words can put a chill down a Marathon staff's spine quite like "delay." For runners and walkers who have their pre-event routine timed to the minute; any kind of a disruption is upsetting at the least, and devastating at the worst. But that was what the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon faced the morning of Sunday, May 4, at the start line for the 10th annual Marathon. With a record field of more than 16,000 ready to go, a house fire along mile 22 of the route had just turned into a three-alarm inferno, forcing the closure of that stretch of the course.
As the public relations firm for the Flying Pig Marathon, it was the responsibility of Game Day Communications to disseminate the information to various media outlets while keeping runners and walkers informed of the developments and assuring everyone that yes, the Marathon would go off as close to schedule as possible. So how do you do that while controlling your message to the media and keeping participants calm? By anticipating as many crisis scenarios as you can think of.
The fire may have broken out at 5:30 a.m. on race morning, but the preparation for this moment started months earlier.
Each winter the Marathon staff goes through every possible race disruption that comes to mind-from water main breaks to fires to excessive heat to a too-close-to-call finish. Those who have worked in the event business have seen these unforeseen events happen from time-to-time.
How each staff deals with the crisis, though, separates the good events from the great.
The "Pig's" crisis manual includes each possible emergency with a plan of action assigned to each. In each plan, the appropriate staff is consulted, then one Pig official is designated as the media spokesperson. For example, with a medical incident, the medical director meets the media; weather-related incident, the staff consults with the Pig's TV partner's meteorologist with the executive director as the media contact, and so on. Ironically this year, for the first time, we included 'fire on the course' as one of our possible crises, and put an appropriate plan in place just in case. Who would think it actually would happen?
So when word of the fire along the course came down, Marathon Executive Director Iris Simpson-Bush, along with Don Connelly, race director, and the Cincinnati Police Department's liaison to the Marathon, Sgt. Greg Lewton, met at the start line to decide the plan of action.
At the same time, the Marathon's media partner, WLWT, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, was preparing to go on the air at 6:25 a.m. for live Marathon coverage. And, of course, thousands of runners were heading to the start line. While the early discussion surrounded how long it might take to clear the route, the next option was how to re-route runners around the danger.
At 6:05 a.m., with the start of the Marathon less than a half hour away, Iris, Don and Sgt. Lewton decided to go to the scene of the fire to see for themselves just how the course might be re-routed around the emergency. So with sirens blazing in the police car, the Marathon decision-makers went to mile 22 to decide the safest way to detour the runners and walkers.
At 6:20 a.m., the call came to the start line: The course would be re-routed a block, adding about 1/4 mile to the Marathon, and the start would be delayed about 15 minutes while police and safety crews set up the detour.
Only then, when the decision was made and the plan of action set, did the announcement go to the runners, the media and the Pig's on-line audience through Twitter (www.twitter.com), a social media instant messaging service. In fact, at the same time the delay was being announced to the runners at the start line and on live television, instant message followers were getting that same information so there were no opportunities for rumors or false information to be spread about the start of the event.
Once the first delay message went out just before 6:25 a.m., start line announcements kept the runners informed every couple of minutes about the situation on the course and the adjusted start time. To the participants' credit, everyone understood the reason for the delay, accepted the change and were more than gracious about the circumstances. Keeping the runners informed and updated as soon as the facts were known helped the situation.
The delay was less than 15 minutes. Participants for the opening ceremonies stayed for the minimal delay and the pink fireworks to celebrate the Pig's 10th anniversary went off just as the runners were hitting their stride along the riverfront.
Crisis planning that took place months before, paid off in the 45 minutes it took to find out about the situation, deal with it, and disseminate the information to the affected parties. Because of the advance planning, staff were cool, calm and determined to find a quick solution.
In all, there were three key components to working through this crisis:
Relationships with the City
If it had not been for the close working relationship between the Marathon and the police, finding a satisfactory detour around the fire would not have been as easy as it turned out to be. Having a close working relationship with the safety departments makes the big decisions a lot easier.
Communication with the Media
Working with the Pig's television partner to get the word out about the delay through announcements, interviews with selected Marathon staff along with regular news and start line updates made getting the correct information out easier and prevented false information from getting out.
This was the first year to use Twitter as a way to directly communicate with Marathon followers (mostly spectators following their runners). Using this method of social media instant messaging, Twitter subscribers (it's free) across the country knew instantaneously about the delay and were kept up to date on the course changes.
Of course, none of this would have worked as smoothly as it did without the crisis manual formulated in advance. But at the end of the day, the relationships with key planners and media, along with the relationship between the Marathon and its record crowd, made the 10th anniversary Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon one to never forget.
Betsy Ross is president of Game Day Communications, the sports marketing & PR firm that manages the communications for the Flying Pig Marathon, in Cincinnati, Ohio
The Case Of The Angry Urologist
Planning For a Crisis Will Help You Avoid One
From Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock
It was a battle between two urologists at a Florida hospital. The reasons are still unclear. But what started as a war of words became more serious. Sort of.
The crisis occurred when one urologist was caught on hospital video cameras raking a car key across the car of the other urologist and laughing. Police were called. TV cameramen appeared in the ER shortly thereafter.
And people started talking. On camera. The nurses. The video camera technician guy. The custodian.
This hospital needed - quickly - a workable, realistic crisis communications plan and staff training before something serious happened.
We worked with hospital leadership and the board of trustees to develop a custom crisis communications plan that included:
- Clear, concise manuals for every department
- A crisis communications team representing every key hospital function
- A crisis communications flow chart for quick decision-making
- Training for every team member on how to use the manual and flow chart; who is responsible for what and how to deal with the media.
This hospital is now ready - for angry urologists or something worse.
After all, the next crisis could be a breach of patient privacy. Or a disgruntled employee anxious to tell their story to the media. Or a medical error. Or a hurricane. Or an overwhelmed ER.
Communicating effectively in the wake of a crisis is never easy. Organizing communications structures and messages takes time. And there is never enough time during a crisis.
Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock is a healthcare public affairs firm that specializes in strategic communication campaigns for healthcare providers and companies across the country. Website: www.jarrardinc.com Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-254-0575
Bernstein Blogging & Tweeting Update
The Bernstein Crisis Management blog rocks! What, you haven't been following it? There are at least five new posts a week! Recent posts include:
- Rights? What Rights?
- Don't Be a Boob!
- Kentucky Fried Crisis
- Get Digital
- Message Timing Important During Crises
Please visit and chime in!
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CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
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Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of Crisisblogger.com
"It's like a Swiss Army knife -- lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this."
Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
Publisher, About Public Relations
In addition to individual and business usage, the manual is now being required as a textbook at Seton Hall University, Grand Canyon University, and Singapore Management University, amongst others. It is available in both PDF and hard copy formats at www.thecrisismanager.com, with reseller arrangements available for collegiate bookstores.
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ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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