Dos and don'ts of crisis management, from spammer attacks to the Boston Marathon bombing

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What You’ll Learn:: 

A crisis can be as terrifying and public as a bomb blast in the center of Boston.

Or as invisible as an attack by enraged foreign spammers that destroys a tech company.

But whatever crisis may hit your organization, you can prepare by learning from the crucible other organizations have passed through.

In a three-part set of Ragan Training videos, “Dos and don'ts of crisis management, from foreign spammer attacks to the Boston Marathon bombing,” three veterans present case studies and offer tips for your organization.

You'll take away:

  • How vital it is to engage with audiences via PR and social media in good times
  • Why you must invest in the right software to assure your crisis execution never misses a beat
  • Why strong relationships with company stakeholders—not just the PR and marketing team—give you a huge head start
  • Why coordination among your communications team can make or break your crisis response
  • Why a printed lists of contacts and other key information is vital in a crisis
  • Why you must educate your staff on the rules about talking to the media so there is always one clear voice

Minutes after the Boston bombing on April 15, Beth Israel Deaconess Media Relations Director Jerry Berger’s phone started ringing while he was in New York City, waiting to head home to Boston by train. He hadn’t heard of the bombing when the first reporter asked, “So how many victims did you get?”

The Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess dealt with 1,000 inquiries from worldwide media. An armored personnel carrier parked in the Emergency Department lot to search arriving ambulances for bombs and weapons. Both of the suspects ended up at the hospital.

Berger dealt with a fiercely competitive media that didn’t always crown itself in glory. One journalist tried to bribe a nurse $5,000 to take a picture of the suspect, Berger says.

Learn why paper is not dead—and what kind of printout might save your bacon during a crisis. You don’t want to be desperately trying to connect to your computer with an iPhone to retrieve that document.

Learn how to make sure all staffers know the rules. Everyone should know who is authorized to talk to the media so you can speak in one clear voice, Berger says.

Tech companies are often run by fast-moving innovators, movers and shakers who don’t want to sit down and role-play through hypothetical crises, says Leslie Campisi, managing director of Hotwire Public Relations. If your clients are like that, they need to listen up.

Find out why you should dig deep and learn everything about your clients. You need to be briefed fully.

Discover ways you can use internal communications as preventative medicine. You don’t want that bigmouth bigwig to leak a story to the press and undermine your plans for an exclusive with a major outlet.

And find out why, when Russian and Chinese spammers attack, you must manage your CEO carefully.

Finally, learn the importance of planning meetings—before your crisis hits. Tell your leaders and subject matter experts, “This is your meeting. We have one hour. We’ve got an empty notepad. You tell us what worries you.”

Successful crisis management means smart work in advance. “It’s not about sitting back waiting for that red phone to ring,” Ha says.

September 2013

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Presenter bio: 

Won Ha is the national executive director of issues and brand management at Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit health plan and hospital system. Won helps lead in issues and brand management. He advises leadership across the organization. He is also accountable for developing strategies and systems that provide early warning of emerging issues and allow the organization to respond and address crises before and as they emerge.

Jerry Berger is director of media relations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a 649-bed Harvard teaching hospital where he leads a team in multimedia, social media and crisis communications. He was Massachusetts Statehouse bureau chief for United Press International and a spokesman for the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee. As an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, he served as editor-in-chief of Insuring American Health for the Year 2000. Berger holds degrees from Boston University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Leslie Campisi is managing director, US, at Hotwire PR, a global consultant serving technology companies and digitally-enabled brands. She oversees operations in New York and San Francisco. She worked in the tech industry as a marketer, content manager and interactive producer before becoming a PR pro. She has a unique perspective on the challenges brands and agencies face in creating communications plans. Her commentary on PR trends has appeared in PR Week and PRNewser, and her integrated digital PR campaigns won awards from BtoB Magazine and PRSA.