The importance of having a crisis communications plan was thrown into stark relief last Thursday when a disgruntled man flew a plane into an office building in Austin.
The office building hit was close to our Pierpont Austin office and immediately, our staff was bombarded with calls from worried family members and friends asking if we were okay.
My father called me after seeing the news break on TV. I told him we were all okay. He said he would relay the fact that I was fine to the rest of my family.
This is where things went south.
The lack of information in the message he sent out to my family made it sound like I was hurt or involved some way. Needless to say, my mother and grandmother were quite worried before the miscommunication was cleared up.
This whole situation reminded me of how important it is for a company to have a crisis response plan in place BEFORE the crisis happens and how critical it is to communicate clearly with your employees, their families and the media.
If you are speaking on behalf of one person or an entire company in a crisis situation, your first message should always contain a general description of what happened, a time and place and the steps being taken to handle the situation. You should also use a spokesperson you trust (sorry dad!) and provide updates periodically. Never guess, lie or speculate and always know what you want to say before you step in front of a crowd or camera to speak.
My father’s miscommunication was resolved in a matter of minutes and a couple of phone calls. However, if you don’t communicate clearly when there are hundreds of employees or thousands of consumers involved, the results could be disastrous and you could end up with bunch of needlessly worried mothers and grandmothers.