The Boston & Maine Connection – PR Disaster Planning
The lessons of Challenger – Fast Forwarded Thirty Years
January 28th a sad but also long ago memory brought back painfully fresh. It is the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. At the time, Outer Space, was the new frontier and frontiers are fraught with danger. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the word came over the radio. Just South of Bangor Maine, heading to an important first meeting with Mark Mowatt, founder, entrepreneur and the CEO of Ben’s 100. Like so many others, I was in shock and bewildered. I had no smartphone, social media or tools other than a pager and faced the choice of a 20 minute drive off Interstate 95 to find a payphone to seek guidance or continue on, as I did, to drive on for ten more minutes to meet the expectation of being timely. I remember the somber mood. I remember watching TV with the CEO and his staff. I was sad. I remember little else. The reason for the visit, the outcome? All trivial in light of what happened unexpectedly.
Comparing the past to today, I see such an amazing difference in the tools of communications and how communities react to fast breaking news. Today’s frontier is the internet, the wild-wild-web of human interaction.
Back then, radio was fastest with the furthest reach.
TV ran a close second but most of us did not typically have one riding shotgun in our cars.
Newspapers gathered information carefully putting out next day reports because Extra Editions were already too expensive to add to the print news delivery cycle.
We all expected to get home to the evening news with Walter Cronkite to get the full story. Yet, that day, 30 years ago, January 28, 1986 at 10:39 am, it was Dan Rather on the desk reporting live as a sadly repeating tape from Houston talked about a malfunction while our eyes told us so much more. See the video clip here http://bit.ly/MCMalfunction
Thinking about the speed of today’s real time web, I can only imagine that 30 year old scenario playing out as bad press today for Mission Control. With Vine Loops and Vimeo, sound bites repeating the understatement of the decade and images lifted from network footage shared instantly to and by billions of humans worldwide, the potential for a virally fueled PR disaster is huge. And yet, most businesses today are ill prepared to deal with their own Mission Control Malfunction.
In today’s real time always connected world, it pays for everyone to have a contingency-A Catastrophe-response PR plan (CPR) in place. We are all citizen journalists today. See something, say something. You can be sure the phones are out capturing video and stills, circulated globally in just seconds. Yesterday’s casual bystanders are today’s reporters and social media journalists. With all senses put to use, the social enabled citizen becomes the people’s eyes and ears on the ground. What they see, feel, hear, smell and touch or taste are often amplified without benefit of backstory.
Here are some easy actions to take: Start with a list of possible catastrophic incidents that could happen involving your business. If you are in manufacturing, you instinctively know you will deal with big orders, bad deliveries, broken equipment, crisis driven fulfillment. It happens all the time. Medical and Pharma, established and start ups? Know that you or your competitor will one day announce a big breakthrough, a huge backer, a major sale but also, a mission failure, a life lost, human error and human tragedy. How will you deal with it?
As a minimum, have an outline of who speaks first and what they say. Think about the words you will use. Are they calm and measured? Do they match the tenor and tone needed if you ever have to call them into action? What is your worst case scenario list? How will you respond in the pressure of the moment? A well planned PR disaster recovery plan includes a matrix of events likely to happen in the life cycle of a product, service or company. Be prepared. Have a plan and have your own media outlets already connected to the social business world we live in.
As David Meerman Scott says, “we are what we publish.” Start publishing now and keep going.
Want some help? Get in touch with Keith Spiro.
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