Best Crisis Communications Starts with Preparation

The recent nationally televised error at the 89th Academy Awards was a lesson in crisis communications. There are many take-aways from the unfortunate scene that unfolded when Warren Beatty, a presenter of the award, was given the wrong envelope.

Since probably you either were watching the event unfold or have read about it many times; it isn’t necessary to recap the event but rather discuss what it reminds us as lessons in crisis communications.

An article in February 25, New York Times mentioned that PwC was quick to accept responsibility for the mistake.

Certainly, it’s a major brand crisis that can’t be swept under the carpet but acknowledging responsibility is an important step. Rather than pointing fingers and placing blame, taking responsibility shows where the buck stops. Regardless, of the many factors that may have led to the error, this offers the opportunity to get to the bottom of the situation.

As PwC executives searched for the answers there were also wheels put in motion to alert all employees the next day after the debacle.

I particularly like the comment by Tim Ryan, the US chairman of PwC, “Bad news doesn’t age well,” in explaining that the company will get to bottom of the error and if they made the mistake they would own up to it.

Certainly, the swiftness of the televised error as millions watched is different than a crisis that could occur at a senior living facility but regardless, it illustrates how quickly the media responds.

Being prepared for a crisis is something all of us need to practice.   While no one can predict what crisis could befall a community, everyone should be aware of the standard practices a community will put in place without having to scramble.

A crisis plan should be written for your specific community. Then it should be reviewed regularly since employees change and specifics of a plan can be easily forgotten.

While The Ehlers Group focuses on the communication aspects, there are also operations issues involved in a crisis plan and differing procedures for varying crisis situations.

Every crisis plan needs to involve what I call the 4 “P’s” of planning, preparation, procedures and practice. A good starting place is asking your team the question “What will you do if” and brainstorming various crisis situations that can occur, the likelihood of a crisis occurring and what would the potential devastation be from various crisis situations.

Having a crisis plan which includes the communication aspects should also deal with the various audiences and how they are communicated to and by whom including how media is handled. It should establish who will speak on behalf of the community. The media will look to a specific person who has the authority to comment and everyone should know who this individual is and how they can be reached. A communications plan should guard residents’ and employees’ privacy. Working with the human resource department is important to know what laws are in place to protect these people.

In good times, there should be media policies and procedures in place for media inquiries and visits. When employees are familiar with these in good times, they are more natural to utilize when there is a crisis.

In the case of the Oscar’s accountants’ crisis, the reputation of PwC is one of being a firm with integrity, accuracy, and confidentiality. It has yet to be made public if PwC will keep the Oscar contract.

If you would like help in developing a crisis communications plan for your senior living community, please call The Ehlers Group, 954.726.9228.

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