Crisis response requires thinking ahead

Posted by Gina Pappas on June 8, 2010 |

Recently, our own Tom Albers sat on a media panel with other Omaha media experts, including Brian Mastre, anchor from WOWT Channel 6. Brian made some excellent points about crisis response, including the following:

  • Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend the crisis will go way – it won’t
  • Be truthful at all times, because if you aren’t the media won’t ever trust you
  • Good relationships with the media, developed over time, will help when dealing with a crisis

I think it’s important to add one more point: Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

While it’s key to respond quickly to a crisis, it’s almost more important to have a plan in place that forecasts and prepares for what could go wrong next. This seems to have been a key misstep by everyone’s favorite PR punching bag, BP.

Clearly they weren’t prepared for a crisis of this magnitude in the first place and didn’t have a solid plan in place. Flying by the seat of their pants resulted in a poorly developed initial response, which made the company a magnet for criticism.

With every blunder, every failed attempt at clogging the spill and every ignorant comment made by the CEO, the crisis impact – in terms of not only PR but also the environment – seems to be growing every day.

The latest headline adds another layer to the problem, debating the quality of life and survival rate of birds that have been oil-soaked due to the spill.

Perhaps if BP had better predicted what could potentially go wrong, they would be better equipped to handle the crisis and could develop messages, in advance, that speak to the potential issues.

Unfortunately, CEO Tony Hayward can’t hop into his time machine and earn a do-over in his crisis response. But it may not be too late to look into the crystal ball and see how the company can deal with the next (almost certain to come) layer of the problem. That is, assuming he can find a clean, clear crystal ball within 500 miles of the Gulf.




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