Post Media Crisis Management

May 19, 2008

I was just looking at the link to PR News’ new Crisis Management Guidebook so I must first admit I haven’t ponied up the $400 for the book nor have I read it. But a quick review of the table of contents suggests that one of the key lessons of crisis management today may not be adequately addressed: direct communication. Media relations is still a critical element of effective crisis management. But far too many think it is the only element–in fact, they tend to equate media management with crisis management. The emphasis is on spokesperson identification and training, media messaging, press conferences, use of online press rooms, etc.

All this ignores the very clear reality these days that the media has one primary role to play and that is to alert the broadest audiences that there is an issue that they may have an interest in. They do this in a way that serves their ends first of all–which is to build an audience for the purpose of ratings and ad rates. But once the world has been told the story in usually the most cursory fashion, they move on. What they leave behind are assemblages of the highly interested–the critical audiences on whom you will depend for years to come.

The overwhelming trend in crisis management is fast, direct communication. Virginia Tech demonstrated this need more than anything in that it made clear the expectations that urgent and critical communication needs to be direct and via the fastest possible means. To continue to operate in a way that suggests this never happened and to think that we still live in the same media world we did 20 years ago is to think like the Civil War general who lines up his troops in vast columns to attack well placed Gatling guns. An exercise in suicide.

That all being said, I hope this new guide gives due attention to the ever increasing need for direct communication with critical audiences. If not, it is old before it is even out.

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