I met with my Central Ohio PRSA mentor, Bethany Cramer for coffee a few weeks ago. I know that people always say that their mentor is the best, but mine really is. She’s always prepared with tons of tips and advice for my career. Many people have encouraged blogging in class and at PRSSA but my mentor assured me that when she was graduating she blogged about current events and PR strategies. She encouraged me to start this blog after our discussion on the story I’m sharing.

By Albert kok (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I love dissecting the way that people handle a PR crisis. Recently I read a story in the newspaper about an individual who went on an alternative spring break to Belize and came home with stitches on her toe from a shark bite on a snorkeling outing on the trip. Snorkeling was not mandatory of participants. The bite was a disaster complete with an initial attempt to hide the bite (the supervisors told other snorkelers that the individual stepped on a shell) and an adventure to get medical care on different islands. However, the PR didn’t begin until they got back to the U.S. According to the article the trip organization emailed the individual as soon as she arrived home. The email asked briefly how the individual was and went into a plead to the individual to avoid posting anything bad about the trip on social media. She immediately went to the paper and explained she wasn’t planning to post anything negative. She just would appreciate concern.

The organization’s attempt to avoid bad press resulted in horrible press. I never would have heard about this incident if it hadn’t have made it into the paper. If I was working on the PR team I would have done things differently.

1. I would have either called or scheduled a meeting to see the individual to make sure that she was recovering and comfortable since returning home. This isn’t mandatory but it would have shown her that the organization truly cared about her well being. Even she said, that’s all she wanted.

2. I would be sure that she was prepared to return to class after spring break and had everything that she needed to be comfortable. I would help her contact any disability services that the university might have for injured students. At Ohio State the Office for Disability Services at Ohio State provides the Handivan service for temporarily disabled students. If the university she attended had something like this I would make sure these measures were in place so the individual would fee comfortable about her return to class.

3. I would also check to make sure that she had seen a doctor since returning to campus to help her recovery move faster. I would ask her if there was any other matters she was concerned about that I might be able to help her work with.

4. I would not have told her what she should or should not post. Telling someone to post positive things about your company isn’t the right way to get good press. By showing the individual that our organization cared she might voluntarily choose to post positively, which turns out to be better (less forced) messages anyway.

5. Finally, I would update my organization’s crisis plan and review the waivers. I would take note of any changes that could be done to improve the situation in the future, if applicable. I would notify the individual and her family of the ways that my organization was improving measures for the future. This would restore the confidence of the individual in the program and encourage her to post positively about the future of the program.

These are just a few ideas. Obviously it’s easier to think of ways to handle a crisis when you’re looking at a situation from the outside after it has already occurred.

Do you have any other suggestions? What would you have done differently? Have you ever been in a crisis communication situation?

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