[Jason’s note: I’m thrilled that Jessica Lawlor is providing this guest blog. She is a senior public relations major at Temple University, graduating in May. She is the president of Temple’s PRSSA chapter. Jessica is currently searching for public relations positions in Philadelphia and New York City. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn or check out her Web site.]
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful and informative public relations event in Philadelphia. Drexel University’s PRSSA chapter was selected by PRSSA National to host a regional activity called Bizarre PR.
One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about crisis PR. The session was led by Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Chief Press Officer, Jerri Williams. For those familiar with Philadelphia, SEPTA is our form of public transportation whose trains, subways and buses serve more than one million commuters a day.
Crisis PR is something that Jerri Williams deals with on a regular basis. In November 2009, three crises struck in the same week.
November 2, 2009: At 3:00 a.m. SEPTA’s union went on strike leaving several commuters frustrated that day when they left for work. The strike lasted six days.
November 4, 2009: A major fire broke out on SEPTA’s regional rail, the only form of transportation not disrupted by the strike.
November 5, 2009: A SEPTA employee was killed by a train.
Wow! What a bad week for SEPTA…Jerri Williams outlined her tips for dealing with crises.
- Never underestimate a crisis
- The media will show up before you…be ready for them
- The media will cover the story with or without your input
- Not responding does not mean the media will go away
- The media always needs a good guy and a bad guy. Know who these “people’ are before speaking with the media.
- Be patient with reporters.
Williams also introduced us to the art of putting together a press statement. She suggested using a press statement when your company does not want to elaborate or entertain questions. She described it as a tool to use, “when you really can’t say anything.” Williams said that it’s important to display empathy, be sure to say that you’re determined to make things right and share the concern of the public and the media.
In addition to sharing her crisis PR tips, Williams told us about four fatal fiascos when communicating during a crisis.
1. Saying “no comment.”
3. Losing your temper
4. Losing eye contact
Have you ever dealt with a PR crisis? How did you handle it? What are your crisis PR tips?