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Being Media Prepared in 2017

10 May. 2017 Posted by aadams

Daniel J. Potterton, FEI Chief Operating Officer

On June 1, 1999, American Airlines (AA) Flight 1420 arrived from Dallas-Fort Worth and slid off the Little Rock, Arkansas runway. Nine people were killed including the pilot, and more than 80 people were injured, some severely burned.

In the days that followed, a Family Assistance Center was established in Little Rock where daily briefings were held by the National Transportation Safety Board for family members. Involved in these briefings were representatives of AA who cooperated in the investigation and expressed to the families the condolences of AA for the loss of life and pain and suffering of victim family members.

Underreported during this time was family outrage towards AA’s CEO, who was accused of being callous and disrespectful by not showing up at the Family Assistance Center in person to offer his condolences. As one family member expressed, “My husband is killed on your plane and you send a surrogate to express your condolences? American Airlines is horrible. You should be ashamed.”

That was 1999. Fast forward to 2017, and the emergence of social media would take AA’s story and create a firestorm. Just look at the viral event embroiling United Airlines CEO Oscar Munez.

There are many important lessons to be learned from these incidents. According to the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), “When you’re out of time, under pressure and the stakes are high, it’s easy to make mistakes.”

IABC offers a list of common crisis communication pitfalls and tips on how to avoid them:

Don’t wait too long.

The news never sleeps, and neither does the internet. The rapidity with which events can go viral undercuts traditional strategies of gathering and verifying all the facts before making official statements to media, customers and employees. Distributing information at the onset of a crisis to establish credibility is critical. It’s okay to provide updates to the public while simultaneously gathering the facts that will tell the eventual story.

Employees are key assets.

On the other hand, organizations cannot prioritize external audiences at the expense of their employees. Employees are central to emerging crises, and are usually the best positioned to determine how quickly an organization can bounce back from an event. And don’t forget: Employees are also the ones interacting directly with the public. Equipping your representatives with the correct information when addressing concerns can go a long way to effectively managing a crisis.

Emotion builds rapport.

Dispensing facts is important, but organizations need to balance the reality of a crisis with the emotional complexities. Displaying genuine concern for an event early on establishes a direct connection with external audiences and lends weight to future statements. Crises aren’t just business concerns; they are human concerns with people at the very center of traumatic situations.

Social media is here to stay—use it!

As seen so recently with the United, Delta and Spirit airlines, social media is the constant consumer advocate. Stories catch fire almost as soon as they happen, and organizations need to have built strong social relationships with customers prior to a crisis. Investing in these types of web-based communications can lead to proper management in the event of emergency later on.

Practice, practice, practice.

Developing an initial crisis communications plan is good business, but many organizations fail to keep such plans up-to-date. Conduct regular drills to maintain contact information and re-engage key team members with their crisis duties. Truly understanding a crisis communications plan requires practice, which will strengthen the existing plan through frequent re-evaluation and refinement.

FEI has the expertise and experience to help organizations be better prepared when disaster strikes. Our distinguished history of providing crisis management and victim assistance solutions to organizations prepares and trains senior leaders to avoid crisis management communication blunders. We believe you should always be prepared for the unexpected.


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