Your Darkest Day Depends Upon What You Do on a Clear Sunny Day – Aurora Shootings Crisis Lessons (Video and Discussion)
By Gerard Braud, Braud Communications
After days of non-stop news coverage about the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, today is the day that every communicator and leader should take time to pause and reconsider how they would communicate effectively should their company or organization fall victim to a similar tragic mass casualty event.
I’ll share a few observations here, as well as in the companion video, then ask you to share your thoughts:
Take Away #1: The Aurora police responded quickly and caught the suspect in less than 2 minutes because they routinely practice and prepare. Do you routinely practice and prepare for how you would communicate effectively and in a timely manner during a crisis? At a minimum, your organization should hold one crisis communications drill each year to test 1) the efficiency of your crisis communications plan, 2) the ability of your leaders to allow a fast release of information, and 3) the ability of the communications team to quickly hold news conferences and release details simultaneously to employees, to the world via your website, and to issue website links via social media.
Take Away #2: Nearly 12 hours after the crisis began, a host of political leaders spoke at a news conference. They were followed by the police chief. All was going relatively well until the police chief offered to accept questions. It was then that his answers became abrupt and he seemed somewhat irritated with the media and they questions they were asking. Often while teaching a media training course, spokespeople will ask me why reporters ask so many dumb questions. I respond by asking why, as a spokesperson, so many spokespeople fail to anticipate all of the possible questions and fail to have an answer inserted into their prepared statement.
Just as police practice their S.W.A.T. response, police spokespeople, and any spokesperson, must practice their news conference response skills. One way to eliminate “dumb” questions is to offer benign, pre-planned answers. For example, the police chief appeared irritated because he was asked about the motive. I suggest you follow a technique that I use in every crisis communications plan I write. On a clear sunny day, I host a writing retreat for the communications team. At that retreat, we anticipate every possible crisis and for each of those crises we write a unique communications document to be used at a news conference. I use a well thought out system of fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice. To write it correctly, we anticipate every question we might be asked by the media about each specific crisis. Hence, if you anticipate that a reporter will ask about the motive, you can pro-actively write this type of response into your communications template: “One cannot speculate on why an individual may commit such an act. We will have to wait for our investigation to tell us that.”
Such answers actually eliminate questions at a news conference, causing the news conference to end more quickly so you and your team can return to work and prepare for the next news conference. Those who use this system are constantly amazed that they can walk away from a crisis news conference without a single question being asked, because they anticipated the questions and proactively answered the questions before they could be asked.
Take Away #3: Never judge the success of crisis communications by how well you handle the media after a crisis, especially if you are operating from your gut reaction. You should judge your crisis communications response by a) the amount of planning you do on a clear sunny day, b) the amount of writing that you do on a clear sunny day, and c) the amount of practice that you do on a clear sunny day.
Conclusion: Most of what you will have to communicate and respond to on your darkest day can be anticipated and prepared for on a clear sunny day.
Questions for discussion:
- How much preparation have you done in your organization?
- If you have not done so, why?
- If you have done so, what was your secret to success?
About Gerard Braud: Leaders on 5 continents regard Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) as the guy to call when “it” hits the fan. They rely on his sunny day, pro-active strategy as their secret to effective communications during a crisis. Braud is credited with creating a one-of-a-kind program that allows organizations to complete a year’s worth of crisis communications plan writing in as little as 2 days. Ask him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org