A war room allows for proactive comms in a crisis

Speed kills. That jarring reminder hung on a sign above James Carville's desk in the nerve center of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for president, immortalized in the documentary "War Room."

Speed kills. That jarring reminder hung on a sign above James Carville's desk in the nerve center of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for president, immortalized in the documentary “War Room.” 

Carville wasn't talking about the dangers of crystal meth or auto accidents. He was describing the impact of quick and decisive communications on the campaign trail. Be quick or be dead. That was almost 20 years ago when faxed news was bigger than Fox News. 

Today, in an increasingly complex communications landscape where news breaks every second and metastasizes to go viral through social networks, it's essential for global brands to design a rapid response protocol that enables them to be quick and nimble. 

Many of today's most sophisticated multinational corporations address this evolving landscape with strategies, tactics, and talent forged in the fires of bare-knuckle politics.

Centralizing rapid response in a full-time war room is one of those proven political tactics increasingly adopted by the most successful communicators. 

The war room construct is successful because it isn't just a centralized team working shoulder-to-shoulder around the same table. The power of the war room comes in the gestalt of individuals working in synchronicity and accomplishing collectively what a distributed team could not achieve. When fully engaged, the successful war room becomes an adaptive organism.

Too often organizations can get caught on their heels and spend all their time responding to inquiries or addressing attacks. In a high-pressure, high-stakes communications scenario, it is essential to coordinate tasks in a way that permits both proactive and reactive communications. 

My colleagues advocate a “PPR” strategy that balances promotion, pressure, and response in equal proportions to handle unpredictable communications environments. Delegating the three distinct responsibilities within the team ensures that an organization can continue to engage on its own terms. 

One morning last week I saw a client team engaging reporters to correct misinformation in the morning coverage, mobilizing grassroots stakeholder groups for an event, and launching new YouTube content all out of one war room, which was seamlessly integrated like a Swiss watch. 

When facing a rapidly unfolding crisis or activist attack, a centrally organized war room team communicating in real time proactively and reactively can decide the difference between suffering reputation damage or advancing the message and protecting the brand. Don't lose to analysis paralysis. Respect the need for speed. 

David Vermillion is EVP and the New York public affairs practice leader for Edelman.  

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