From the Archives: Crisis Communication

June 21, 2016

Crisis Communication On Social Media

The year was 2009.

  • Senator Barack Obama had recently become the 44th president of the United States.
  • Junior quarterback Tim Tebow was leading the Florida Gators to the national championship.
  • Beyoncé was doling out advice to all the Single Ladies.
  • And leaders at COHN (then, Cohn Marketing) were publishing a series of white papers on the state of the marketing industry.

Like stumbling across an old yearbook or a “to-do list” from years ago, these white papers capture a distinct moment in time for our company. I found them recently on an archived server, and I became captivated.

A lot can change in seven years. Since these papers were published, COHN has rebranded once, relaunched its website twice, and brought in gobs of new talent to the team. And the truth is those changes are minuscule compared to the extreme changes within our industry since 2009.

But some things—like wisdom—stand the test of time. Intelligent strategy endures.

Through a four-part series, I thought it might be fun to highlight some nuggets of the wisdom in these white papers to demonstrate how as more things change, the more they stay the same.


Social Media Transforms Crisis Communications
By Robin Richards, VP of Public Relations
(Editor’s Note: Robin is still with COHN and is now our SVP of Public Relations)

“Today, a crisis must be managed across all media, including online, print, and broadcast.”

Robin’s statement in 2009 was a reaction to social media’s  introduction as an immediate crisis communication tool. In 2016, this seems like a bit of a no brainer, but recall that your first tweet probably didn’t occur until 2009. Today, her statement seems truer than ever, and if your crisis communication plan doesn’t touch every communication tool available to you, you’re probably doing it wrong.

“In the past, an organization would most likely have had some time to pull the crisis communication plan off the shelf, assemble the crisis response team, prepare a press release and hold a news conference after the crisis unfolded. … Businesses and PR practitioners must now be prepared to act at moment’s notice.”

Robin was practically clairvoyant on this take. The public now demands action in the wake of a crisis, and PR pros can’t afford to wait to execute a crisis communications plan. As someone who has been in the trenches of a major PR crisis, let me testify that having a plan when “it” hits the fan will make your job much, much easier.

“A well-managed crisis, however, cannot only preserve reputations and credibility, but can also enhance them.”

Some things never change. Demonstrating grace under fire, especially in a timely manner, can help swing sentiment and earn the benefit of the doubt in a crisis. In fact, as Robin points out, a threat can turn into an opportunity if the crisis is managed with aplomb.

“… (your response) should be done with full transparency, honesty, authenticity and accuracy. Social media users are keenly aware when it appears companies are using these platforms to spin or cover-up a news story.”

This was just the tip of the iceberg, Robin. In 2016, emboldened social media users prey on inaccuracy or fake corporate speak—and that’s before you factor in a crisis situation. While Robin’s point still rings true, the playbook requires even more caution now. While we haven’t reached full Joe Friday yet (“Just the facts, ma’am.”), companies in crisis should be smart and discerning with their social posts.

If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading Robin’s full white paper. Nearly all of it still applies in today’s hyper-social environment, and it proves that smart counsel is worth every penny.

Download Robin’s 2009 white paper here.

Think this one was fun? Wait until you see what else I dug up in the COHN archives.

Over the next several blog posts, I’ll dust off a few other white papers I found on the COHN servers to put our industry in perspective, including how social media will impact PR, how search engine marketing can build your online momentum, and how strong client relationships deliver real results for our clients. Stay tuned!

What We Read This Week – June 17, 2016