Last week, I had the privilege to lead a discussion on crisis communications at the chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) at my alma mater, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. To say the least, it was an impressive group that showed a level of sophistication about advanced strategies most students can’t quite comprehend.
I started the presentation with the fundamentals of discovery and messaging when entering or preparing for a crisis. But, I spent most of the time answering questions about the “make it or break it” factors when guiding an organization through a period of bad news.
While these students understood quickly that both words and actions are significant, something some groups don’t always “get” right away, they were most curious about the dynamics that can often determine success. This is what many professionals often forget. These are factors like ego, the tug-of-war between PR and legal, bureaucracy, “the blame game,” and other business and psychological elements that influence whether a client will even take your advice. On these topics, the Newhouse students had a thirst for knowledge and a high level of curiosity.
They should serve as an example to others to are trying to determine how to be successful the next time bad news strikes. It’s crucial to perfect the fundamentals of communication. But, also, you must look inward to your organization. Will your decision-making be fast enough, avoiding “analysis paralysis?” Will you empower the right people? Will your lawyers convince you to play not to lose, or will you play to win? Will you do right by your customers, or let fear steer you to silence?
The students engaged in thoughtful discussion about those questions, understanding they are paramount. They are questions every company should be asking.
Thank you to the Syracuse PRSSA for the opportunity to begin this discussion. Now it’s your turn to continue it.