Crisis comms, media often work together in disasters

In our final blog in this series, we will look at the similarities and differences between traditional and natural or manmade disaster crisis communications.

In our final blog in this series, we will look at the similarities and differences between traditional and natural or manmade disaster crisis communications.

Both types of crisis environments require a rapid response system in dealing with the media and getting ahead of the story as it develops. Both crises require an aggressive strategy and a disciplined messaging approach. Both require solid media training and preparation for staff and spokespersons. Both require a real-time assessment of what is happening and how the crisis is being perceived by the media.

Both environments necessitate proactive planning. For example, in the traditional crisis, the client and its firm should do their best to anticipate what negative stories could develop, especially if the client has suffered this type of issue before. This means plenty of staff preparation, mock interviews, and pre-packaged releases.

In the natural crisis environment, oftentimes you can anticipate the arrival of a hurricane or natural disaster. In the case of a manmade disaster like a shooting or terrorist attack or an unforeseen natural disaster like a tornado, this is not always the case.

However, many natural disasters allow you to pre-plan your communications strategy and position your resources in advance of the storm. You can imagine the various scenarios and the different types of messaging that might result from these occurrences. Your firm also needs to plan an internal communications strategy with your client, so you can remain in contact with their teams in the field, often under very difficult circumstances.

The differences between the two crises mostly involve the reactive nature of traditional crisis vs. the proactive nature of natural disasters and the way in which you deal with the media. Essentially, most traditional crisis communications stories involve a reactive approach. Your client is accused of making a mistake or producing a flawed product or is drawn into unforeseen controversy. The story turns negative very quickly. As discussed previously, more often than not, natural disaster media tends to be proactive in nature.

Another difference is the way the media tends to interact with you. In many cases the media plays an adversarial role in a crisis communications story. They're trying to do their job and get the facts out to the public. You're trying to mitigate the damage. This is where you need to have a strong, straightforward relationship with the media. Deal with them honestly, but when they get the story wrong or they're missing your side of the story, push hard to make sure they get it right.

In a natural disaster story, often the media wants to work with you in a positive way. They want to inform the public and understand how important their role can be in recovery and relief. More often than not, you both will be on the same page working in concert with each other to serve the greater good.

Larry Kopp is president of the TASC Group.

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