© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 15,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: My colleague and frequent ezine contributor Gerald Baron succinctly and thoughtfully discusses the short- and longer-term impact of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
How the World Changed After Virginia Tech
By Gerald Baron
It is an axiom of crisis management that an organization going through a major crisis is changed forever. But there are some crises that change not just the organization, but also the surrounding environment. I believe that will prove to be the case with the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech.
Here are my thoughts about how this event will forever alter the landscape of crisis management:
1) The media fault finding will worsen before it improves.
Once again the mainstream media demonstrated that their standard reporting of such situations demands that someone must be blamed--someone must wear the black hat. And the person who carried out the deed, now among the dead, doesnÕt qualify. So the blame was immediately placed on the administration for failing to take immediate action and to notify the campus community. Never mind that there have been few if any precedents of a domestic violence incident ramping up to a wanton murderous rampage. The mainstream media is under incredible financial and audience pressure--witness the further staff reductions at the LA Times. Their reaction is to work all the harder to build and maintain audiences. The implication for crisis managers is that they must be fully prepared to operate with a black hat squarely and unquestioningly placed on their heads. The question about NBCÕs airing of the macabre tape from the killer needs to be put in the context of their realization that it would show up on the Internet for sure. Knowing that the viewing was inevitable, should they pass on the opportunity to be the focal point? That was the real question they faced.
2) Every action seems to demand an over-reaction.
In the days following the tragedy dozens if not scores of schools went into lock down. Notifications were streaming right and left. No one wanted to be accused of lack of response, and certainly there were incidents of copycat behavior. Nevertheless, those responsible for emergency response and communication need to understand how an event like this suddenly puts everyone on edge. University leaders across the nation were having to answer the question to local media as to how they would have responded and how they would have communicated to students and the campus community. Be prepared to answer those questions, regardless of the industry you are in. This event was focused on the universities, but the next one may be focused on your segment and you need to be prepared to answer how you are meeting the suddenly elevated standards.
3) SMS and social media emerge as critical emergency notification requirements.
No self-respecting emergency management and communication plan can now fail to address text messaging and social media. This event made the role of social media such as Facebook as a new form of communication with young people a common topic of conversation. And the world now seems much more aware that you need to use cell phones with text messages if you really want to reach people moving about a campus. This is a tremendous change in thinking for many in crisis management. But reporters and stakeholders will not go back to a day when this was new and unheard of. In one or two days, these modes have entered the world of the commonplace, the expected and demanded.
4) What becomes possible becomes expected, then demanded.
Imagine what you would say if someone told you they couldnÕt get an urgent package to you in less than a week? Federal Express made overnight--even same day--shipment possible. And what becomes possible ultimately becomes demanded. So it is with the new forms of instant communication. I predict a critical leap will be made from this event: if students have a right to expect to be notified of life or health threatening events virtually instantaneously, why should I not expect that as an employee? Or as a citizen of a town or city? If universities can communicate instantaneously via text message and new forms of communication such as Facebook or MySpace, why cannot employers, city leaders, and fire chiefs? Although this new expectation will take some time, in retrospect, I believe that we will look back at Virginia Tech as the incident that resulted in the ubiquitous use of instant notification services. And the implications for anyone in crisis management are very significant.
Hurricane Katrina made everyone evaluate their emergency plans with the new wrinkle that you can no longer assume that your Emergency Operation Center and all your infrastructure will be there when you need it. Virginia Tech will have a similar effect--now instant notification will be a critical part of all plans. So, how will you address the now heightened expectations?
Gerald Baron is President of Baron&Company (www.baronpr.com) and founder and CEO of PIER System/AudienceCentral, supplier of the leading urgent and critical communication management online solution.
Editor's Note: When media relations guru Jerry Brown once again tackled the subject of crisis communications, I was quick to request permission to bring his thoughts back to "Crisis Manager" readers.
Get a Good Crisis Communications Plan or Expect Disaster
By Jerry Brown, APR
If you donÕt have a good crisis communications plan, you have a disaster waiting to happen.
The events of the past few weeks -- including Virginia Tech -- certainly are a good reminder of that. I wonÕt bore you with my take on the various events that weÕve all seen unfold.
Instead, an observation from Tom Hoog, former CEO of Hill & Knowlton and father of Michael Hoog of Corporate Advocates where I hang my hat much of the time.
According to Tom, there are two kinds of companies: Those that have had a crisis and those that will have a crisis.
If youÕre not ready for your crisis before it happens, youÕll probably have a disaster on your hands -- including a media disaster.
The good news is that writing an effective crisis communications plan is easier than you may think.
You have three basic objectives in any crisis:
- Fix the problem. Fixing the problem is fundamental; but itÕs not enough.
- Say what youÕre doing to fix it. Unless youÕre telling the rest of us what youÕre doing, many of us will assume youÕre not doing anything -- or at least that youÕre not doing enough or donÕt care enough. Failing to say what youÕre doing to fix the problem may do you more harm than the problem that caused the crisis.
- Tell us what youÕre doing to keep it from happening again.
Your crisis communications plan is a blueprint for doing Steps 2 and 3.
Your plan is about the logistics of the communications, not the content. The content will be driven by what happens during the crisis.
Less is more when it comes to writing your crisis communications plan.
The temptation is to write an encyclopedia covering every potential situation. It wonÕt get used.
What you want is a simple blueprint for:
- Collecting accurate information as quickly as possible.
- Streamlining approvals so you have green light to use it.
- Communicating information quickly and effectively to the right audiences.
ThatÕs my two centsÕ worth. WhatÕs yours?
Jerry Brown is Senior Counselor, Public Relations, at Corporate Advocates, www.corporateadvocates.net, author of A Practitioners Guide to Media Relations, and he also writes the Monday Morning Media Minute email newsletter, to which you can subscribe by writing to Jerry, email@example.com.
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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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