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The global communications director called late on a Thursday evening in April 2010 from halfway around the world. Media scrutiny of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia was gaining momentum, and a small division of the caller’s organization had replaced equipment inside the mine just days before.
Could I arrange immediate message preparation and media training for the CEO? Could I get to him – deep in the Appalachian Mountains – quickly and get him prepared? And, the director asked, what are the odds that the media will find its way to our little subsidiary? We never expected anything to happen. We need to get ready fast.
Intense coverage of the mining disaster had dominated the news for 10 days, so the odds were good. I flew to Kentucky on Sunday morning and drove through the bluegrass to reach the subsidiary’s offices. The CEO and I spent Monday polishing his messages and preparing for tough interviews.
Throughout the day, we watched CNN, CNBC and the other news channels closely. Both the media and the mining community were eager to find a root cause, a scapegoat, a reason to explain the loss of 29 lives. The client’s role could be deemed crucial, and I advised the CEO to expect a media call at any time. After the training session, we were basically prepared at best. Only so much can be done in a single day.
And then it happened. One thousand miles away, off the coast of Louisiana, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers lost their lives and the rig, it turns out, would be incredibly difficult to cap.
The media interest literally went south. My client’s bullet had been dodged.
I like visiting Las Vegas. Although I sometimes win at the tables, I’m always prepared to lose. Is your company well-prepared to withstand a crisis or, if it happens, will you have to roll the dice and hope to be lucky? You could argue that my client was lucky. The dice fell his way.
Never bet your corporate reputation – it’s something you can’t afford to lose. Build a bank of trust and security with an issues/crisis plan that you can draw against when the chips are down.