It has been said that when George W Bush paused to take in the news of the Twin Tower terror attacks in America on September 11, 2001, that was the moment he really became President of the United States.
One of his chief advisers walked into the room where he was listening to a storytelling session at a school in Florida. The adviser briefly whispered in the President’s ear about what was happening inNew York and elsewhere.
George W Bush later said he did not want to alarm the children and school staff in the room by abruptly leaving, or displaying visible emotion to upset anyone. Instead, he stayed for several moments in the room listening to the session before then making a dignified exit.
No doubt he was already privately deciding how best to handle the terrorist attacks in his mind, and upon leaving the classroom then became immediately immersed with his staff and advisors in beginning to lead and manage the response to the horrific unfolding situation.
PR professionals can learn from this approach when faced with a crisis. At Motive, we tell clients it is always best not to panic and always try to remain calm when faced with an unexpected situation within your company which needs urgent attention.
It could be that a member of staff has suddenly died at one of your company’s sites. It could be a social media storm where your brand is suddenly being pilloried. Perhaps a major fire has broken out in your firm’s neighbourhood and the flames are getting closer.
Whatever it is, you firstly need to remain calm - your employees will feed off on this. Then you need a strategy for action.
Gather key people within your team including immediate colleagues, the social media team, and senior managers. Brief them on what has happened, suggest immediate steps to address the situation, an expected timeline for action and how they can help.
Do not assume what has happened. The next step is to find out the full facts in order to help you formulate an informed statement and one which will serve you well as the crisis plays out. Take into account business impact as you look to formulate your messaging and work out your organisational position on what has happened.
Monitoring social media channels can help you assess how major the crisis is, what people are saying and what your response needs to cover. You must get senior executive-level approval on your messaging and approach at all times.
You will need to identify if other agencies or organisations are involved and how best to dovetail your proposed responses with their activity. For example, in the case of a fire, work closely with the communications team of the fire service to decide who is going to say what and when.
Identify the best channels of communications to engage with your audience - this could be a press release or a corporate blog, for example. Monitor your response and how it is received and update your audience at appropriate stages as the situation develops and be on hand to manage two-way communications effectively.
Provide any spokespeople you identify with sufficient background information before they give interviews. Ensure everyone is on hand to assist as part of the team for as long as necessary.
Once the crisis is over, it is important to learn from the experience to benefit your organisation in the future.
Motive is on hand to help advise you on handling a crisis. Please get in touch with us if you would like to find out more - we would love to hear from you.