When Crisis Occurs… Who Ya Gonna Call?

Written by:Jacqueline Zonneville, Account Director with energi PR’s Healthcare Practice in Toronto

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a training session focused on Communications for Risk, Issues and Crisis Management. The day was spent examining the principles/differentiating factors of risks, issues and crisis, and strategic approaches to effectively manage each. Following, my fellow participants and I had the opportunity to put theory into practice and apply our learnings to a uniquely designed mock scenario. A very rewarding experience!

As a PR practitioner focusing on health and wellness, I find myself more and more fascinated by the intricacies of crisis communications, and best practices to weather the storm so to speak. And here’s why (most of which won’t be new to my fellow practitioners, but hopefully of interest nonetheless):

  • Crisis never sleeps; it can occur at any time: Take the recent Malaysian Airlines crisis, for example. A round-the-clock communications effort was employed to keep the public up-to-date with accurate information, and to correct the multitude of inaccurate reports making their way onto various media and internet channels, etc. Not to mention, with the rise of social media, a whole new set of crises are making their way to the public eye!
  • Crisis requires a forward-thinking approach: When crisis occurs, there’s no going back. All companies can do is find an effective way forward, and to regularly communicate the steps being taken to course correct. Remember, Mohammed went right to the mountain. He didn’t run and hide or back away from it.
  • Crisis has punch: Depending on how an organization conducts itself during a crisis, it can allow for an opportunity to gain public support by demonstrating overall worth/goodwill throughout the crisis. I think we can all agree that Tylenol recovered well from its 1980’s laced-capsules crisis.

With healthcare communications comes a mixed bag of crises that companies could potentially face – from potential product recalls to black-box label warnings to loss of life, access to medications (or lack thereof) and everything in between.

Some Qs to ask:

  • Is the situation at hand truly a crisis, or are you being faced with an independent issue? Is there a way to contain the issue before it becomes a crisis? Keep in mind, the key differentiator between an issue and a crisis is that an issue relates to an incident whereas as crisis is a more ongoing situation.
  • When in crisis, what are the key messages that are important to convey? Is everyone on your response team in line with this message track and are they effectively communicating with the broader organization?
  • What solutions to address the crisis can/should be highlighted?
  • What are the benchmarks for success for your organization when it comes to effectively managing a crisis?
  • What are the short- and long-term strategies needed?

When all else fails, a friendly piece of advice I came across from Hallmark plaque: “Just take it one gigantic, earth-shattering crisis at a time.”