What do the British think about crisis communications

November 29, 2006

I always find it interesting to hear what others in communications or PR think about crisis communications. Here’s a blog post from Phillippe Booremans blog conversationblog.com. I like the title of the PR conference in London he attended: Taking the Drama Out of Crisis.

Here is his post about what folks in London are saying about crisis communications. I especially like his first point: “No vacuum please”; in a crisis situation constant updates are needed – even if no major changes in the situation take place.

What strikes me as missing, and what I continually complain about as missing from most people’s crisis communications plans or thinking about crisis communications, is the lack of attention to people other than the media. There are typically a whole number of people affected by a crisis. Investors, neighbors, employees, community leaders, elected officials, NGOs., etc,. etc. Experience has shown that these people demand information just as much as the media and have very high expectations about you communicating directly with them. The answer that they will get from you that you were way too busy dealing with Katie Couric or Brian Williams simply won’t buy you much.

It reminds me of a story I have repeated often in presentations. A global oil company had a major refinery explosion in the UK. The company was HQ’d in the US and the head of communications believed he was doing a marvelous job of answering all the media inquiries he was receiving. Not only did the newspapers in London complain about inadequate information, two weeks after the event the company got around to opening its email. (the communicators were busy, you see)  It had a number of emails from neighbors near the plant who had emailed the company right after the explosion and fire asking if they should evacuate. Those people expected (and one might even say deserved) fast, direct, and straight up information from the company. Hearing that the company was too busy dealing with the media simply would not square with them as it would not with you.

Every company or organization facing major crises needs to have a way not only of filling that vaccuum by providing a constant flow of information to important stakeholders other than the media. Some are doing it and doing very well. It is the standard. No matter what side of the pond you are on.


2 Responses to “What do the British think about crisis communications”

  1. Mark Harris Says:

    I attended the PR Week conference, Taking the Drama out of a Crisis, and there was a lot of good material to take away from it including the bullet points that Phillippe took away from the media panel. In addition, Phillippe’s own talk on social media was very good too. To your point on the lack of attention to people other than the media. This is a very valid comment and has been a problem when companies (though not all) have been responding to crises for some years. However, I am pleased to say that there has been some improvement over the last few years here in the UK and I hope this trend continues. Clients are still surprised however when the phones start to ring and it dawns on them just how many people are out there wanting information. There is still a way to go and I am certainly doing my best to make sure companies understand the issue when I facilitate workshops for them, or am providing strategic counsel during a crisis.

  2. borremap Says:

    Hi Gerald,

    Completely agree on the point you make; it is bigger than just media. I had to deal with a plane crash, a strike, a flame site and a product recall till now (and they always happen on a Friday have you noticed ?) and every time other organizations and people are involved… It does take a very well prepared crisis team to deal with all those but it is definitely needed.

    Hi Mark,

    Glad you enjoyed my presentation about Social Media. I’ll be back in the UK for conferences next year. If you happen to be around, let’s meet.

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