A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend my first of what I hope will be many monthly PRSA luncheons. It felt a bit intimidating to be an intern surrounded by so many talented and successful public relations professionals. Despite my nerves about the situation, I found it to be very exciting and beneficial, and I believe that rings true for the rest of the attendees for a number of reasons.
The PRSA luncheon was a great opportunity to meet with other communications professionals and trade updates and advice. Tracy Weise, from Denver-based Weise Communications, gave a compelling presentation on crisis communication. Through their work with The Medical Center of Aurora, Tracy and her team were on the front lines of communication following the Aurora shooting on July 20, 2012. This tragedy had a significant impact on the state of Colorado in addition to the country as a whole.
During her presentation, Tracy shared valuable advice on dealing with crisis communication. She said that when it comes to communications, it is not a question of “if” a crisis will occur, but rather a question of “when.” Without an established crisis plan, you can’t do your job as a public relations professional. Crises are inherently unavoidable and ignoring them will only lead to even more significant trouble. A thorough communications plan is crucial for successfully handling a potential emergency and should include a strategy for information transfer, task-based roles and social media.
One element of a successful crisis communications plan Tracy shared that I found particularly unique is the use of social media. While social media can be very effective for a traditional public relations plan, this is especially true during a crisis. Tracy established that crises are when anyone who doubts social media will realize its true importance and benefits. However, if your social media presence is not already established and active, it will not provide much help, so it is critical to develop a presence that is vigorous and familiar.
For distributing information during a crisis, social media can serve as a reliable outlet that audiences will trust as long as it is coming from the source itself. For example, following the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, the Boston mayor’s Twitter handle provided frequent updates on his office’s actions in handling the crisis. Because of their frequency, authority and accuracy, these 140-character messages from the mayor’s Twitter handle were enough to satisfy both the press and public audience.
I left the luncheon feeling much more knowledgeable about crisis communication based on Tracy’s thoughtful advice and experience. It was inspirational to hear about how one team successfully managed such a difficult time. This experience has made me very excited to contribute to crisis communications plans and attend further PRSA luncheons.