Crisis Issue Management

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Being as though I am a college student majoring in public relations, I have access to some of the most brightest and critical minds in the industry; my professors. So I’ll take this opportunity to share some insight that I received from Pat Curtin, who was not only the acting PR chair for the school of journalism here at UO, she also has years of experience in the industry.

She gave a lecture on crisis communication and image management during my Strategic Planning class.

While I have frequently alluded to advice given to me by colleagues, teachers or guest speakers, it is interesting to note that different people have different opinions regarding how to go about communicating during a crisis.

What is issue management?

To understand issue management you must first define what an issue is in terms of PR. An issue is a gap between an organization’s actions and its stakeholders expectations. When these are at odds, there is a potential for crisis.

Issue management is aimed at proactively closing that gap. Communicating in a way that reassures and mends the cognitive dissonance experienced by stakeholders.

I wont go into detail on her opinions about planning and preparing for crisis, as they align with others advice which I have put forth in recent posts (contingency plans, go over plans at least once a year, etc).

The most surprising piece of advice she gave; lawyers are never your friend during a crisis.

Why are lawyers not your friend? The prerogative of lawyers is to deny guilt. This is obviously to protect the organization from legal consequences. But as communicators, transparency is essential in the wake of disaster.

To successfully communicate during a crisis you must know what mistakes not to make. So here are some common mistakes to avoid during a crisis:

  • hesitation
  • obfuscation
  • retaliation
  • prevarication
  • pontification
  • confrontation
  • litigation

In other words, do not hesitate, confuse, fight back, evade, mouth off, challenge or get into legal disputes.

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