We no longer do five-year plans. We don’t do one-year plans. We do five-day plans, says Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay. With the onslaught of new communication channels, the reality is you’re only going to get five minutes to get a statement together when a crisis hits. Every first-rate building professional knows the necessity of a good plan.

Well-defined plans are a huge portion of any project, but the plan shouldn’t stop with the building. You will face a crisis at some point. How you handle it is up to you. The good news is that a little pre-planning can go a long way, but you must first understand the changing landscape of the media.

Take the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Even though US Airways Flight 1549 landed just blocks away from the majority of the mainstream media’s headquarters in New York City, the first report of the crash appeared on Twitter exactly one minute after the plane hit the water. “Citizen journalism” has changed the face of reporting forever. Everyone has a cell phone, typically with camera or even video capabilities.

New media—including blogs, text messaging, Twitter, social sites like Facebook and MySpace, and video sites like YouTube—are changing the dynamics of communication and, subsequently, crisis management. The lines between print and electronic journalism have blurred, and “traditional print” reporters are increasingly asked to film their interviews for the online portion of their article. Information that was previously only internal moves outside of a project or organization with amazing speed. Are you prepared?


The first step is to think about what kinds of crises can affect your company. Workplace accidents, fires, asbestos cases, crane collapses and workers without proper safety gear may initially come to mind. But what about unexpected crises, such as an estranged wife, bent on revenge, who gives cell-phone camera footage of her husband paying off a city inspector to the media? Or a foreman who gets into a fight with a cab driver and is now facing a highly publicized lawsuit? His story, including the name of his company, is repeated in countless articles and blogs. The scariest aspect of this is that a claim doesn’t even have to be real in order to damage a company’s reputation.

Here are a few things to think about when working on the elements that make up a crisis plan:

• Instant response: Have a few messages ready. Safety, transparency, care, cooperate—these words can serve as anchors in an immediate response. Even if you don’t know exactly what has happened, you can always state that “Safety is our top priority” or that “We’re dedicated to transparency regarding the situation.”

• Dissemination: In addition to more traditional crisis-planning techniques, you must have thought through the multiple channels that you need to include in your output. This includes online channels like Twitter and YouTube.

• Frequency: The standard response, “We’re investigating and will get back to you,” can still be used, but only after you’ve delivered other updated information. Updates should occur frequently during the crisis and for several days following a major one.


• Control: Crisis teams lose valuable time debating over what to say and who’s going to say it. Having a designated spokesperson or spokespersons is imperative. You can’t control what is being said about you in the moment, but you can control what you say and who says it.

• Prepare: Identify third-party representatives—experts in your field who don’t work for your company but who are primed to deliver a positive message about your organization—before a crisis occurs.

•Video: Internal spokespersons and third-party representatives are great, but work through how you’re going to use them. In addition to preparing and rehearsing these participants, we recommend filming their responses. Additionally, having stock video of your safety operations on hand will give the traditional news media and new media sites something to use.

If you don’t already have a plan in place or if it doesn’t address new media, this is a wake-up call.

Merrie Spaeth is president of Spaeth Communications Inc., Dallas. Emily Turner is vice president of Spaeth Communications, Inc. Both can be reached at 214-871-8888 or at www.spaethcom.com.

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