I’ve seen and heard about colleagues going into a full meltdown during a crisis situation — and totally fair, a loss of life is as big of a crisis as one can get. That said, we communications people are paid to keep the straight face when everyone else is losing it. That’s just what we do.
A crisis plan is imperative to staying cool, but that’s not what I want to focus on today. Indulge me for a moment.
In today’s 24-hour media cycle, there’s a big story every week. That means, on average, there are 52 big stories every week — and that’s just on a national scale. When things hit the fan, put your crisis plan into place and above all, remember that it’s temporary.
A 2012 Wall Street Journal article, “The Short Life of a PR Fiasco” illustrates this perfectly. While the story notes that it takes a short time for one’s reputation to take a hit, the blow often doesn’t last forever or even an extended period of time:
I asked PR experts for an explanation. Their answers can be grouped in three categories: “the shiny object,” “the loyalty issue” and “the lack of choice.”
The first one is the easiest. Attention spans are getting shorter.
As Robert H. Bloom, the former U.S. CEO of the marketing giant Publicis Worldwide, says, “Business leaders today have less and less control of the narrative around their own business than they have ever had before.”
Paradoxically, however, companies’ loss of control of the news can work to their advantage because the investing and consuming publics seem to move on faster than traditional media.
The corporate PR guru Robert L. Dilenschneider has a simple recipe. “Tell it and tell it fast.” If you do that, it goes away in a day. The attention span of the public is very short,” says Mr. Dilenschneider, who used to run Hill & Knowlton and now heads his own agency, Dilenschneider Group.
Customer loyalty also helps. Many of those who wrote on JetBlue’s blog expressed support for the crew of Flight 191 while others stated how much they liked the airline.
The final factor is the lack of alternatives. Given that, on most days, BATS, JetBlue and Goldman are at least as efficient as their rivals—and that many competitors face similar issues (remember the May 2010 “flash crash” that cascaded across stock and derivatives markets?)—disgruntled customers don’t have many better places to go.
The caveat here, as noted in the piece, is that this doesn’t “apply to very serious disasters.” Most things,don’t rise to the level of the BP oil spill or another major catastrophe.
That said, when (not if) a crisis occurs, keep calm and remember that (in most cases) this too shall pass. I was always amazed that a lot of tragedies and other “scandals” seemed to blow over in a week or less. That doesn’t mean they aren’t serious, it means we need to keep things in perspective.
As a communications pro, my job — and those like me — is to put out fires where they start but also keep my client’s ship sailing or motor vehicle driving towards the future. You can’t prevent tragedies from happening. What you can do is remember that it’s usually temporary, address it quickly and keep it moving.