Crisis comms strategy vs. disaster comms strategy

In the following blogs, we will compare and contrast the various strategies involved in managing a traditional crisis communications story and a natural or manmade disaster story.

In the following three blogs, one today, Wednesday, and Friday, we will compare and contrast the various strategies involved in managing a traditional crisis communications story and a natural or manmade disaster story.

In this series, we will rely on our experience with a former client, Park51, also known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” and a current client, the United Way of New York City. The latter is on the front lines of Hurricane Sandy, providing mid- and long-term recovery aid to the affected areas up and down the eastern seaboard.

Crisis communications work requires a rapid response framework, a strong and consistent message, and an aggressive, disciplined political approach to the media. A rapid response system gives you the capacity to get your message out to the media as quickly as possible. Crisis media work necessitates an aggressive control of the storylines that could potentially harm your client or change the negative narrative about your client. Staying out in front of the story in a proactive manner is critical in sound crisis communications strategy. Many times, you inherit a negative story, and you will be in a reactive and defensive mode, but there will be a point when you will need to pivot to a more proactive approach to the crisis. This will require a rapid and effective response.

Developing a strong and consistent message that doesn't change, and one in which all parties have agreed to will go a long way to changing perceptions with the media and the public. Your story and your message must be as compelling and as forceful as the contrary story that has grown up around your client. Effective storytelling that uses human interest and real-life stories will be far more effective than canned or “Pollyanna-ish” messaging.

Managing the media in an aggressive, disciplined, and political manner will be half the battle in a crisis story. You will need to change their minds or challenge an entrenched narrative. The media is like anyone. Once it decides that a story is a certain way, it is reluctant to rewrite its narrative. In order to gain the media's trust, you will have to use the relationships that you have established over the years on behalf of your client.

If the media has gotten it wrong, don't be afraid to aggressively communicate that fact to the right reporters or editors at a particular media outlet. If they got it right, tread carefully. Don't misrepresent yourself or your client to the media. It is not in their best interest or yours long-term to try to pull the wool over their eyes.

Be wary of social media in a crisis communications environment. Make sure your client is not tweeting or posting one message while you're disseminating another message.

In Wednesday's blog, we will discuss the strategies that involve a natural or manmade disaster.

Larry Kopp is president of the TASC Group.

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