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Crisis Communications

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Oct 30, 2008 in Crisis Communication, National Conference, PRSSA

2008 PRSSA National Conference – Detroit

Crisis Communications
Jeffrey Douglas, APR, Fellow PRSA, Director of Public Relations, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

The epic tragedy at Virginia Tech was also an epic challenge in crisis communication, said Jeffrey Douglas. There were more than 1000 reporters and 150 satellite trucks on location after the campus shooting.

Douglas gave several the conference attendees a lesson in crisis communication 101:

  • Have a plan and drill it
  • Establish a command center
  • Designate a spokesperson and work with them so there is one clear voice to the media
  • Keep the CEO visible and engaged
  • Communicate as much as you can, as early as you can
  • Stay on message with relevant, confirmed facts
  • Share additional information as possible after it has been confirmed

Douglas said there were three phases of the Virginia Tech crisis:

  1. Managing the emergency
  2. Stabilizing the wounded community
  3. Resurrecting the image of the university

Douglas said you must feed the media something, or else they will find something. Aside from press conferences, messages were immediately posted to the school’s Web site. The messages were immediate and transparent.

The web is a powerful tool, Douglas said. Using integrated marketing, Virginia Tech’s Web site was redesigned. The new design includes an insert box for announcements.

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