Posted At: March 25, 2009 3:48 PM
by Louise Crow
Foreign objects found inside Diet Pepsi cans, 2,000 employees laid off and the Challenger space shuttle explosion are all classic corporate examples of potential opportunities that took a sharp and sudden turn. Instead of effectively driving under pressure, these companies lost control of their once well-oiled machine. Like a Ferrari on an overcrowded highway, crisis situations are fast, fiery and explosive—without turning just right, a crash is imminent.
This analogy maps a new direction that companies should take on this dangerous and crisis-prone roadway. Steering companies successfully to the finish line takes PR practitioners with crisis communication experience and a thirst for continuous education.
Learning to drive
Joseph Ledlie, the Dale Earnhart of crisis communication, is the founder and president of The Ledlie Group public relations firm. The firm advises companies’ communication strategy that confronts a variety of issues from CEO ousters to union control to zoning fights to environmental problems.
In the world of crisis PR, practitioners like Ledlie exercise their imagination and curiosity to drive companies to success. The Ledlie Group does not provide clients with cliché ribbon-cutting ceremonies or luxurious events. Instead, they provide critical crisis solutions. Among the situations handled by the group are a mine explosion that killed 13, pollution spills and criminal cases.
“We specialize in things we have never done before,” Ledlie said about his company strategy.
Road traffic—information overload
PR crisis management is characterized by information overload in this new massive technological age. “The world is more crises prone with such an infinite amount of messages, players and possibilities,” Ledlie said. “Developments move quickly, making it difficult to keep up.”
To effectively handle a crisis, PR professional Chris Johnson explains in his blog titled, Many in PR Are Still Not Social Media Ready,“New real-time monitoring and enterprise programs allow communicators to react—to gain real decision support and offer them true insight into what is occurring and how to be responsive and proactive.”
In any crisis, it is important to remember there is no such thing as having too much information. There is one illuminating moment in every crisis situation. The smallest or most seemingly insignificant piece of information can provide the turning point of the crisis.
When asked how helpful managing information has been in his experience, Ledlie said, “One or two worlds can change the mind of the people. A single number from a past report can change 20,000 minds in a union battle, one loan uncovered ended a powerful banker’s career, one salary turned a union election on its ear.”
The GPS system—the PR practitioner
PR practitioners, as the image-drivers of a company, are responsible for providing clients direction during difficult times. Employees demand answers, upper management asks forgiveness and clients request solutions.
To stay up-to-date, practitioners must absorb information constantly and educate themselves on a broad array of issues. Mastering social media techniques like blogging is essential to understanding clients’ environments and developing concerns and trends.
Chris Johnson also emphasizes the importance of technological scanning: “This is not your father’s PR Oldsmobile. In fact, there is no Oldsmobile brand anymore. Much of what drives change is the Internet and new media. The PR response to that immediacy and ability to become part of online communities is critical.”
Although young professionals may not share Ledlie’s driving record, he reminds them not to fear inexperience. Learning from every single crisis situation is the fuel necessary to cross the finish line.