Plan first so lawyers and communicators form crisis ‘architecture’

Too often, a crisis manager’s task seems like a solo climb up Mt. Washington in a blizzard — cold, lonely and seemingly pointless.

Then along comes an expert, a sherpa with chops, to help and guide. Misho Spring’s story in this month’s Executive Counsel magazine is an ideal teaching platform: Crisis Management Should Precede the Crisis.

Her point, as head of global corporate practice for Weber Shandwick in Boston, is that the days of lawyers [“No comment!”] and communications experts [“Weep, apologize, bow down”] fighting over strategy is so 28 seconds ago.

The premise is that we’re on the same team, and if we’re not, neither of us will serve clients well. The winning approach, Spring argues, is to create “a corporate culture of anticipation.”

Don’t plan for every nuance of a plane crash, an oil rig blowout, a Madoff or bird flu. No one can prepare for every specific crisis. But put in place the structure and tools needed in all crises.

“What crisis plans must do is build a crisis architecture,” she writes.

Communicators understand corporate and legal liability; we really do. EMA offers a guide called “What Every Attorney Should Know About the Press.” As you might expect, it’s a map to common ground.

No expert capable of dousing a five-alarm crisis would suggest any tactic that opens a client to legal liabilities — and if lawyers and communicators are on the same team, the lawyers won’t let that happen anyway. But as this guide explains, there’s a river wide enough between safe, smart, useful, reputation-enhancing comment and no comment.

Today, as Spring accurately describes, no one suite of offices is in charge of communications. In fact, everyone in your organization is a communicator and they will do so immediately and often with questionable or incomplete accuracy — further complicating the crisis management problem. Expect it. Plan for it. Guide it.

At EMA we do far more media training sessions than crisis management ones. And media training is a key ingredient in any C-level person’s recipe for success. But pound for pound, having that flexible crisis architecture already in place when you need it will give you a much better, and more crucial, return on investment.

In fact, if you want to be a demonstrated thought leader, we offer a program called Crisis PR for Attorneys.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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