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In a special session presented by the Puget Sound Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, Dr. Joseph Trahan (@doctrahanmedia) visited Seattle for a half-day session on issues management. Drawing on his extensive experience in public relations, media training and government, Dr. Trahan walked us through his tried-and-true method for crisis communications preparation and survival. Here are a few key takeaways from his “ACCC  x Two” approach.

Anticipate. As Dr. Trahan pointed out, “85 percent of every American corporation will have at least once crisis.” So having a plan, and practicing it at least every year (better yet, every six months) is essential. To inform the plan, Dr. Trahan suggests playing a game of top ten, a la Letterman, to think through possible crises for your organization. Whether it’s crime scene evidence donated to your nonprofit or an employee auctioning off yet-to-be-released products, Trahan urges companies to “think weird — it could happen.” With these possible scenarios in mind, draft a paragraph response plan for each one.  When a crisis strikes, these core plans can help get you moving in the right direction quickly.

Coordinate. A crisis needs one central leader. So, should a situation arise, establish a clear commander with strong support. A single captain at the helm will help ensure messaging remains continuous and consistent. If long hours force you to bring in a reliever, plan for overlap time so the new leader can shadow the commander and achieve a smooth handoff.

Cooperate. Since you’ll likely be balancing a number of interests and needs, from lawyers’ liability concerns to investor relations, it’s important to make sure everyone stays on the same page and that you’re looping in the right resources at the right time. In addition to a senior-level spokesperson and a public relations leader, Dr. Trahan suggested assigning roles like an information coordinator to keep track of and respond to queries, a police liaison to work with law enforcement as needed, and IT support to make sure everyone has the online access they need to keep the response moving.

Communicate. Understand that the words you choose have meaning to the receiver — and make sure you choose the right ones. Some phrases, like “as quickly as possible” can be subjective; using specifics will leave less room for interpretation and misunderstanding. In a crisis, more than anything people seek information, so let them know when they can expect the next update. But, as Dr. Trahan noted, “Once you commit to a time for updates, you’re tied to it” — so make sure you deliver as promised.

With appropriate preparation, clear leaders, coordination of resources, and communication, crisis control becomes significantly more manageable. More than anything, Dr. Trahan stressed one key takeaway: “Never lose control. If you lose control, you don’t think.” 

Photo courtesy of Phil’s 1stPix.

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