Houston Chronicle’s Jeff Cohen, Crisis Experts Speak at Pierpont Terry Hemeyer’s MBA Class

jeff cohen Houston Chronicle Executive Editor Jeff Cohen offers media perspective to Rice MBA Crisis Management students. The Surprise. Insufficient Information. Start of Intense Scrutiny. These are the first three stages of a crisis. Your ability to skillfully manage a crisis relies on what you do in the next two stages: Escalating Flow of Events. Siege Mentality.

Retired VP of Bayer Material Science, LLC and LyondellBassell James Newport, and Former Coast Guard Captain and lead of the Saudi-Aramco Crisis Spill Program Richard Ford joined veteran media executive Jeff Cohen as speakers for the Crisis Management MBA class at Rice University. Each offered sage advice and insights on best practices to graduate students through stories from the front line: a worker strike in Indonesia; an oil spill in the Gulf; local trains going haywire. 

In a crisis, sticking to the fundamentals is a winning strategy. However, experience remains the best teacher. So we’ve compiled the tips and takeaways from their combined experiences to provide you with a crash course in Crisis Management.

Top Tips from James W. Newport, Retired VP of Bayer Material Science, LLC and LyondellBassell

• Personal Safety + Environmental Impact + Press + Government + Boss = Crisis 
• The number one thing that determines the success of responding to a crisis is the initial assessment.
• Simulations and drills reveal your leaders in a crisis situation.
• Predetermine what information you will share with the media including your internal policy regarding benefits, community and media communications.

The 5 Stages of Crisis from Houston Chronicle Executive Editor Jeff Cohen

1. The Surprise – the moment you’re informed of a crisis.
2. Insufficient Information – In this stage, key people close to the heart of the crisis are still collecting details about what is happening.
3. Start of Intense Scrutiny – During this phase, reporters want information right away. 
4. Escalating Flow of Events – This is the domino effect or fallout from the crisis. Everything will be important, but will still need to be prioritized. 
5. Siege Mentality – This stage typically impacts the team in the ivory tower rather than on the ground. During this stage, you’ll want to reach out to wise and trusted advisors outside of the organization to get a good read for where you are as a company and evaluate solid courses of action.

Crisis Management Takeaways from Richard Ford, Retired Coast Guard Captain and Former Lead of Saudi-Aramco Crisis Spill Program 

• The big plan will get you through day one of a crisis; from then on, you will have to craft your actions depending on how the crisis unfolds.
• The ability to be decisive is a key leadership trait. 
• As a corporate representative, the media will often portray you in a character role that fits their narrative of the crisis; you need to be aware of this and learn to adapt to it.
• The media create narratives to drive their coverage of events; identify these narratives as quickly as possible, and if they run counter to your corporate message and you cannot modify them, then steadfastly stay on point in your message and resist their efforts to force you to go along.

Collective Insights from the speakers on basic Crisis Management

• Have a crisis communication plan and practice it.
• Your job is to shape the narrative.
• Get in front of the crisis and play offense instead of defense.
• Be sure you have a dark website that you can launch in the event of a crisis. (This Cision post is a good place to start if you’re looking for insights on a dark website.) 

The Rice MBA course at the Jones School of Management is taught by Pierpont Communications Executive Counsel Terry Hemeyer. Professor Hemeyer has taught in the Rice MBA program for 16 years.