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The Vs and Ps of Crisis Communications

By Karen Addis, APR
September 19, 2013

September’s PRSA-NCC Professional Development workshop, “Social Media’s Impact on Crisis Communications,” was particularly timely and poignant. Held the day after the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard — at the chapter’s regular meeting venue, the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania  Avenue — the workshop began with a moment of silence for the victims and their families.

Speakers Andy Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group, and Roger Conner, former long-time head of Communications for Marriott International, are industry veterans of crises and pointed out that crisis communications and social media are synonymous and inseparable.

They began the session by asking attendees how they first heard about the mass shooting. Answers ranged from hearing the news on Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo’s home page, WTOP, the Washington Post app, and CNN, demonstrating that no longer is there one universal source of information people turn to for information.

“Today people get news in a variety of ways, and a company has to use all of its channels to communicate,” said Conner.

Gilman talked about the three “Vs,” a term he said was coined by crisis management consultant Eric Dezenhall:  victim, villain and vindicator. When a crisis strikes, Gilman said it is important to determine which bucket you fall in, noting that most companies are considered victims, regardless of whether they are the cause of the crisis.

“You have to get out of the victim bucket as quickly as possible and back to business right away,” said Gilman.

He also pointed out the two-way use of social media, specifically Twitter. No longer is Twitter being used just by people at the scene to communicate with the outside world, but rather reporters have also picked up on the value of sending out Tweets requesting information from people “on the inside, ” – those who are on site.

Another take-away from the workshop was the three “Ps” that Gilman and Conner said are essential to effective crisis communications: preparation, practice and passion. “Have a plan, practice it, and show your compassion,” said Gilman.

Both acknowledged that displaying passion is often discouraged by attorneys, who are concerned about the threat of litigation and want organizations to communicate just the facts. But the crisis veterans said it is essential that companies express the appropriate amount of empathy and show their “human side.”

“The Chinese character for crisis is two symbols: danger and opportunity,” said Gilman. “And the goal of all crisis communications is keeping the bad from becoming worse.”

Karen Addis, APR, is senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company, a full-service communications and marketing agency. You can contact her at kaddis@veandco.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/karenaddis.