Being Ready For A Crisis

Worth checking out. These are the plays from CHAPTER 14 of “The Public Relations Practitioner’s Playbook.” Check out book availability on To comment:

PR Play 14-1
Three Rules of Damage Control
1. Get information out early.
• Respond within 2-4 hours – if only as an acknowledgment
that you are on top of the situation.
2. Get it out yourself.
• The spokesperson should be a high profile representative of
the organization.
3. Get it out on your own terms.
• Control the message.
PR Play 14-2

Phases of an Emergency
• Initial Crisis
• Successive Events
• Follow-up Management
PR Play 14-3

Communicate Early and Often
• Contact the media before they
contact you.
• Communicate internally first, then
• Put the public first.
• Take responsibility.
• Be honest.
• Never say “No comment.”
• Designate a single spokesperson.
• Set up a central information center
(staging area).
• Provide a constant flow of information.
• Be familiar with media needs and
• Monitor news coverage and telephone
• Communicate with key publics.
• Be accessible.
PR Play 14-4
The Role of Public Relations in the Johnson &
® Tylenol® CrisisThe public relations decisions related to the Tylenol crisis and the
product’s strong comeback came in two phases.
Phase one was the crisis phase, which began on the morning of
September 30, 1982, with the grim news of the cyanide poisonings.
Since the extent of the contamination was not immediately known,
there was grave concern for the safety of the estimated 100 million
Americans who were using Tylenol. The first critical public relations
decision, taken immediately and with total support from company
management, was to cooperate fully with the news media. The
press was key to warning the public of the danger.
Later it was realized that no meeting had been called to make that
critical decision. The poisonings called for immediate action to
protect the consumer, and there wasn’t the slightest hesitation about
being completely open with the news media. For the same reasons
the decision was made to recall two batches of the product, and later
to withdraw it nationally. During the crisis phase of the Tylenol
tragedy, virtually every public relations decision was based on
sound, socially responsible business principles, which is when public
relations is most effective.
PR Play 14-4 continued
Almost immediately, planning began for phase two, the comeback,
and this involved a more detailed and extensive public
relations effort that closely followed important marketing decisions
and reached out to many audiences. The comeback began officially
with a 30-city video press conference via satellite, an innovative
approach suggested by Burson-Marsteller, the public relations
agency responsible for Tylenol product publicity.
The video conference and all other key decisions were discussed
and debated by a seven-member strategy committee formed by
Chairman and CEO James E. Burke to deal with the Tylenol
crisis. The committee included a public relations executive and met
twice daily for six weeks. The decisions it made dealt with every
aspect of the problem – from packaging to advertising to appearances
on network television. Many required follow-up by the public
relations staff at corporate and at McNeil Consumer Products
Company – the subsidiary that manufactures Tylenol.
The Tylenol tragedy proved once again that public relations is a
business of basics, and that the best public relations decisions are
closely linked to sound business practices and a responsible corporate
Lawrence G. Foster
Corporate Vice President-Public Relations
Johnson & Johnson
PR Play 14-5

Lessons Learned
• Don’t duck the issue.
• Take responsibility.
• Offer to make good on broken promises.
• Cover all the bases.
• Measure results.
KDPaine & Partners, LLC •
PR Play 14-6

Get Down to Basics
1. When a crisis breaks, first, before anything else, get the facts –
gather information.
2. Once you have the facts, determine which changes must be
made in the strategic plan to best manage this particular crisis.
3. Communicate your plan, first internally, then externally.
4. Seek feedback.
5. Evaluate your plan.
PR Play 14-7

The 10 D’s of Crisis Communication
•  Direct
• Distance
• Deflect
• Distract
• Divert
• Diffuse
• Defuse
• Dilute
• Dissolve
• Dodge
PR Play 14-8

Crisis Management Tips from Professionals
1. Even the most carefully laid plans must be constantly
re-evaluated and refined.
2. Planning is just the beginning.
3. Every crisis is different and when one occurs, it is a mistake to
assume a plan will handle all the answers.
4. In a crisis, the best defense is staying on your toes.
PR Play 14-9
Considerations Your
Single SpokespersonMust

Keep in Mind (During A Crisis)• Do your homework.

• Be accessible.
• Be prompt and dependable.
• Avoid being pushed into easy solutions.
• Accept responsibility.
• Be responsive and forthright, and show compassion for victims
and their families.
• Bluffing an answer is not acceptable – wait until you have the correct
• Speak and write your information clearly.
• Be prepared to respond to incorrect information.
• Remain calm and confident.
PR Play 14-10

Successful Crisis PR Depends on Planning
and the Practitioner’s Mindset. Needed Are:
• A strategic communication process in place
• Support from senior management
• Communication with the chief PR officer or someone with direct
access to senior management
• Good relations and credibility with the news media
• Effective internal communication
• Strong peer relations, especially with attorneys
• Ability to “fly the plane” so to speak
C. Fernando Vivanco – The Boeing Company – and
Kathleen L. Lewton – Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.
PR Play 14-11

Emergency Management Kits
No matter the industry or profession, when a crisis or emergency
hits, you should be just as ready with your own Emergency
Management Kit (EMK) of communication-type items as you would
be with a first-aid kit containing bandages, antiseptics, alcohol, etc.
Below is one public relations practitioner’s suggestion for an EMK.
Its contents might depend on the type of company or organization
and staff size. You or your staff should customize your own, determine
quantities and keep it current. Emergency Management Kits
and copies of a Crisis Communication Plan should be in several
locations so that if an emergency hits, the plan and kit will not be in
a quarantined area.
At the very minimum, it should contain:
1. Copy of Crisis Communication Plan (keep the plan on a password
protected Web site link, USB “flash” drive, CD and hard
copy.) Be certain it is up to date.
2. Legal pads.
3. Pens (ballpoint, felt tip [Bic
4. Large felt-tip markers.
5. Plain white peel-off stickers (used to identify injured staff at the
emergency site).
6. List of telephone numbers for various offices and satellite company
locations, local law enforcement agencies, emergency
medical services, fire department and other agencies that need
to know of the crisis. Include cell phone numbers and e-mail
addresses on this list. Fax lines and e-mails at major offices
should also be included.
7. List of cell and beeper numbers for staff.
8. Local telephone directory with e-mail addresses.
9. Current staff directory.
10. Floor plans showing locations of all exits, telephones and wall
jacks, computers, and other devices that may be useful in communication
during an emergency.
11. Fully charged battery-operated bullhorn.
12. Local street and zone maps.
13. For all trips from the site, a map showing the most direct and
safest routes to be traveled to and from the destination.
® and Sharpie® brands are dependable])
14. List of assigned roles for personnel.
15. Summary of information that can be made public during an
emergency. Include Freedom of Information Act summary,
company policy and others.
16. List of professional and community contacts for organizing a
crisis care team of counselors, clergy and others.
17. Laptop computer with fresh batteries.
PR Play 14-12
An Award-Winning Crisis Communication Plan
To view the award-winning plan,
“Philadelphia Phillies – A Crisis
Communication Plan Commissioned by
click on Student Resources, Classroom
Handouts, No. 49. Plans use a decimal system
for easy reference. The plan earned the
2006 Pepperpot Award from the Philadelphia
chapter of the Public Relations Society of
America for Crisis Communication and the
Frank X. Long Achievement Award for
“excellence in writing and creativity.”
” go to andPR Play 14-13

Bernstein’s 10 Steps of Crisis Communication
“Crisis communication’s function is to preserve the value of the
brand. That’s accomplished by minimizing the impact of the crisis.”
1. Identify your crisis communication team
2. Identify spokesperson
3. Train spokesperson
4. Establish communication protocol (notification systems)
5. Identify and know your stakeholders
6. Anticipate crises
7. Develop holding statements (quick response)
8. Assess the crisis situation
9. Identify key messages
10. Riding out the storm
Jonathan Bernstein – Bernstein Crisis Management LLC –
PR Play 14-14

Jack Welch’s Five Stages of Crisis Management
and immediate emotion people feel at the receiving end of any
really bad news. That doesn’t excuse any official from not reacting
quickly and staying “in front of the story.” Rather than denial,
the reaction should be forthright, calm, fierce and bold.
usually plays out with leaders trying to keep the “matter”
quiet – a total waste of energy. All problems, and especially
messy ones, eventually get out and explode.
fight to get their side of the story told, with themselves as the
heroes at the center.
someone has to pay for the crisis with his or her head.
best part – is the awareness raised by a crisis.
Denial – Denial in the face of disaster is human. It is the mainContainment – In companies and other organizations, containmentShame-mongering – This is a period in which all stakeholdersBlood on the floor – Too many times, officials believe thatGalvanizing effect – The fifth and final part of the pattern – theJack Welch – Former Chairman and CEO – General Electric

PR Play 14-15
Bill Jones’ 10 Commandments of Crisis Communication
and no crisis is unmanageable if you give clear, cool facts.
Perception is reality. If your audience thinks it is, it is.Response is control. The community wants access to information,Information is power.4.

Credibility is survival.

to hide, people will think that you do.
act knowledgeable and calm.
so don’t be afraid to admit mistakes.
community to keep them informed.
Body language is crucial. If you behave like you have somethingCalmness is essential. Unflappability is your best asset. AlwaysGive a confession. The public and the media want a confession;Tell the franchise what happened. It is in the best interest of thePreparation is 99% of success.10.

Out of every crisis comes the chance to “build a better mousetrap.”From every crisis there are major lessons to be learned.

Pray like hell that you never have to handle numbers 1 through 10!