On Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Rothchild Catering & Event Center, PRSA Volunteer Chapter and the American Marketing Association held a panel on Effective Strategies for Handling a Crisis. Dylan Jones, BA., Gail E. Rymer, BS., and Mary Ellen Miller, MBA., shared their diverse insights on important questions. With over 100 plus years of cumulative experience, these industry legends shared their past efforts, lessons, and stories.
When asked what crisis communication means to them, Rymer answered through a story about a fire at a facility she worked at. The mayor stepped up to voluntarily speak about the situation when the media was looking for answers. “That’s what we call a third-party endorsement,” said Miller. Building trusting relationships, internally or externally, are vital to crisis management. Building a connection with someone, not in their audience, assisted them in their time of need. This links to the PRSA code of ethics on expertise.
Jones discussed the effects of acting hastily, and without conducting adequate research. United Airlines is a prime example of what can happen when reacting hastily. Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines, spoke too quickly on the situation, causing viral levels of backlash. Gathering all the correct information is more important than getting it out first. Had he taken the time to consult with his team, the crisis would have had better results.
Truthfulness in the face of the opposition seemed to be a theme of Rymer’s expertise. She recalled several instances of being confronted by two women. Every time these women would confront her, she gave them the truth, consistently and calmly. She later said these women friend requested her on Facebook just to tell her that they genuinely appreciated her efforts. “You always told us the truth,” was in their messages. This example resonates exactly why crisis management is so important. There will be problems in your face that one must handle with dignity. The outcome is the invaluable reconnection to a community.
The three shared recurring talking points were how every crisis is unique and will be handled differently. No two problems will ever be the same, so planning must be made adaptively. Carefully crafting, researching and sharing what you release will be drastically different from the next. Each crisis is an opportunity to improve on how to deal with them and how to prevent them.
Crisis management is one of many duties managed by professionals in public relations. During the month of ethics, it’s important to remember the truth is core to planning your next move. Gathering correct information quickly, listening to understand, and committing to being better are Jones’ top three takeaways shared at the end of the event.