At PRWeek's NEXT Conference on November 9, I had the good fortune to sit in on a roundtable entitled "Crisis Management: Lessons From 2010." Moderator Steve Behm, associate US director of crisis and issues management at Edelman, led a lively discussion that touched on the usual suspects - BP and Toyota, among them - the errors they made and what can be learned.
Obviously, having a crisis plan and tools in place before they are needed is essential. Building relationships - with key stakeholders, influencers, or media members - is akin to putting money in the bank during good times so you have resources when the bad times - otherwise known as a crisis - hit. (Thanks to Rich Lukis of Coyne Public Relations for that.) And once you find yourself in such a conundrum, blame is absolutely the worst initial reaction.
Actually, I take that back. The very worst reaction is needless, inexcusable oversight - I guess, technically, that's a non-reaction - such as the Dallas Cowboys exhibited last month. However, before I detail the team's PR fumble, allow me to provide some context.
During the aforementioned roundtable, I was asked to offer this publication's take on crisis trends. I noted the prevalence of social media, specifically pointing to this issue's Digital Analysis by Jason Shuffler. While the piece does not discuss crisis directly, it notes how blogger relations have changed dramatically of late as companies increasingly recognize that certain bloggers must be treated as full-fledged media members. In terms of relationship building, a key strategy in crisis preparation, good bloggers - and you need to do your research to identify the good ones - have become a major part of the equation. In that same vein, companies' websites have become essential forums for disseminating news.
Back to the Cowboys. Every company has a website, often the public's first stop for news on an organization when a major event occurs, such as firing a head coach, which the Cowboys did November 8. Of course, your site is useless if it goes down at an inopportune time. The problem is exacerbated if it's your fault.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the team forgot to renew the dallacowboys.com domain, thus leaving the popular site blank. The domain was renewed quickly, but it wasn't back up until the following morning. And just to be clear: renewing a domain is neither difficult nor time-consuming. There's no excuse.
Talk about lack of attention to detail. Some might say this is a simple oversight, but it's the simplicity that makes it inexcusable. You can't even start discussing detailed crisis strategies until you show a mastery of the basics. Just add it to the list of woes for the 2-7 (at press time) team that struggles to win on any field.
Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.