In writing those tips, I was reminded of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which was a classic study of denial, misinformation and hubris.
- Soon after the leak started, a company spokesperson said damage would be minimal.
- After the State of Alaska had retrieved tens of thousands of dead animals, an Exxon spokesperson was quoted as saying that the company counted only 300 birds and 70 otters.
- At one point a spokesperson said that “TV showed the same dead bird for two weeks.”
- The company estimated the spill would be about 5,000 gallons. It turned out to be more than 500,000 gallons.
- Exxon’s president did not comment for six days, dispatching two underlings to the scene. When the president finally met with the media, he blamed the Coast Guard and Alaskan officials for the situation.
- It was a full 10 days before Exxon acknowledged that its leak-detection system had been malfunctioning for more than a year.
I assume you’ll handle any crisis better than Exxon did. But what do you do after the crisis has subsided?
Do a post-mortem. Specifically:
- Evaluate how you did: what worked, what didn’t and what you need to change. Adjust the crisis-communication plan accordingly.
- Long term, do what you can to ensure that the problem does not happen again. Remain vigilant for any situations that could turn into crises.
- And maintain good relationships with the media. A crisis is no time to be introducing yourself to a reporter.
At best, crisis-communications planning can help you avoid a crisis. At the very least, you’ll be more prepared to deal with a crisis should it occur.
Some information for this article came from the following sources:
Crisis Communications – Malaysia Airlines and the Missing MH370, Priyanka Dayal
Critiquing Malaysia Airlines’ Crisis Communications, Doug Bedell
Malaysia Airlines in Crisis Communications, jocelyncaonyu
Crisis Communications Lessons from Malaysia Airlines, Laura Petrolino
Many websites have a wealth of information about crisis management and communication. Here are some of my favorites.
All About Public Relations, www.aboutpublicrelations.net/crisis.htm
Al Czarnecki Communications, http://www.topstory.ca/crisis.html (crisis communications checklist)
Bernstein Crisis Management LLC, www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com (Has a crisis management newsletter.)