Crisis Communications

Four Rules for Communicating in a Crisis: Handling the Aftermath of the Newtown, CT Shooting

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Schools and news organizations are struggling to manage communications following the tragic school shooting late last week in Newtown, Conn. We’re inundated with content about the shooter, the victims, and the ensuing battle over second amendment rights.  Friends finding the news difficult to handle are staying away from news sites, keeping the TV off and, let’s all hope, steering clear of Facebook.

If you’re in a role, however, that necessitates addressing this kind of tragedy (certainly school administrators, educators, leaders and managers of public, and presumably safe places and media) keep in mind these four guidelines for communicating in a crisis.

  1. First and foremost, express empathy for those affected.
  2. Recognize victims and those who came to their aid. At a moving vigil, our president read the names of the children killed at the elementary school.
  3. Affirm for the audience that steps will be taken to prevent this kind of incident in the future. Explain how that will happen or be addressed. Reassure the audience that safety comes first, and that the commitment to that effort is ongoing and strong.
  4. Make sure that resources are available, and how to obtain them is widely published.

These are four items anyone needing to communicate in a crisis must follow. Furthermore, it’s important to note that HIDING FROM YOUR CONSTITUENCY in the time of a crisis is perhaps the worst step to take. The NRA has taken down their Facebook page, rather than defending its position. 

Be available. Answer questions. Provide value.

Especially in a time of crisis.

How Movie Theaters Can Use Social Media Better

By | Communications, Crisis Communications | 2 Comments

I’m one of many people in my community beyond thrilled to have a brand-new theater. After years of needing an updated movie house, we finally have a 14 screen megaplex with an Imax theater. The theater had a bit of a rough start during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with unexpected, and unexplained fire alarms forcing the facility to evacuate multiple times. On site, the staff handed out passes to those ejected from their movies, but some patrons were still grumbling and others did not receive compensation for their ruined experiences at all. And what do dissatisfied customers do? Well, they go to Facebook, of course!


It’s interesting to me that the Regal Stonefield Stadium 14 & Imax has set up a Facebook page and earned more than 700 fans, and yet has done nothing on it’s page to respond to customer comments or complaints. If you go to the Facebook page you can see that there is not one comment or question to which the theater has responded.  (The URL is —  note that they haven’t even grabbed the custom URL to properly name the page)


Regal may think they’re the only game in town so they don’t need to treat their customers or fans well, or be responsive in social media. That’s too bad, because even though ticket sales are pretty good, they can still decline if customer service is truly awful. You can have a good theater, but a bad reputation may keep movie goers at home, or in the next town over for their big screen experiences.

I encourage the theater to make sure they’re paying attention to the page and to provide customers with the information they seek. If there’s a problem, such as the fire alarm issue, the fastest way to inform patrons of what’s happening and how they plan to handle it is to post those answers online, and since Stonefield already has a publishing presence on Facebook, there’s no better place to keep customers informed.

Communicating in a Crisis: Chris Dumler’s Challenge

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Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler was arrested on felony sex charges last week and now, local news organizations can hardly report about anything else. But what is there to say? Besides the news of the charges, Dumler has a need to stay out of the spotlight. Yesterday, the Newsplex reported that Dumler has canceled public appearances and the community waits to see if he will emerge to address his constituency, particularly in a board of supervisors meeting scheduled for November 7.

There is a distinct difference between a public figure and one who holds elected office, when crisis communications is needed. A public figure can remove themselves from society for a cooling-off period. An elected official will, at some point, be forced to address his or her constituency, particularly to either resign or express intent to continue in his or her public role. People think they have the right to know the truth in a crisis and demand transparency from those in the public eye. They  don’t always get what they want.

There have been notable examples of people (politicians and celebrities) who have successfully emerged, over time, with reputations restored or, at least, forgiven or newly accepted by the community. Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Bill Clinton, Winona Ryder, Gary Hart, Sarah Ferguson — it’s a long list. It remains to be seen how Lance Armstrong will emerge from his own reputation crisis, but we’ll be watching that, too.

It CAN be done, but not without damage done, amends made and a debt served either publicly or in a judicial sense.

From last night’s broadcast:


Update: 10:37am Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dumler Releases Statement Saying He Won’t Resign

What Stonewall Jackson Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America Should Do Now

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Yesterday, Rusty published a post about the Boy Scouts of America’s use of Facebook and a particular interaction that occurred on the Stonewall Jackson Area Council’s Facebook page.  The post, and the organization’s use of Facebook (as represented by the council) was a topic of discussion on Charlottesville — Right Now! with Coy Barefoot later that evening. You can listen to the audio of that broadcast here.

I don’t want to belabor the discussion about the inappropriate use of Facebook — i.e. deleting comments an organization disagrees with — rather focus on what we recommend the Council and, indeed, any organization finding themselves in a hotbed online do in this kind of situation.

  1. Establish a comment policy for the organization. State your intentions to delete comments that are defamatory, obscene or irrelevant (SPAM, for example). Post the policy anywhere online discussion could take place (a blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  2. Train a spokesperson or team of spokespeople to handle criticism — or, indeed, any interaction online. They should understand the language used to describe the organization and it’s position/philosophies, or whom to contact internally to answer questions they cannot.
  3. Prepare for the worst: especially if you represent an organization that has any controversy associated with it (I’m not sure ANY organization is entirely immune to this.) Have the tough conversations about what your process will be in responding to critics, handling and correcting misinformation and dealing with issues online — and off!
  4. Don’t automate. Progressive Insurance is taking a lot of flack this week for being “robotic” and inhuman in the face of a crisis.  The lesson here is to treat your community with compassion and authenticity.

The online world is a brutal place to step out of line — thinking — as the Stonewall Jackson Area Council did — that Facebook isn’t the appropriate venue for discussion doesn’t mean the discussion won’t continue on that platform. Organizations cannot control the message; they can, however, control how they react to it.

Jaggers Communications on CBS-19: More about the Reinstatement of UVA President Teresa Sullivan

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Did you catch Rusty Speidel on CBS-19? So much of the ousting and reinstatement of UVa President Teresa Sullivan has been about the public relations efforts that accompanied the story. Rusty provides commentary on the story as the Newsplex shares the latest poll confirming Sullivan’s approval rating. Watch here.