We tend to think of crisis communication as those moments when famous or powerful people do something stupid, and PR people are called in to repair the damage. But this is a narrow specialty of the public relations profession. Our role in a crisis is often far more complex and significantly more important.
The horror at the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre this week leaves most of us at a loss… a loss for the right words to say and a loss for an understanding of how a brilliant young man can become so twisted. Reporting the facts of this case is the job of journalists who have (so far) told the story accurately and with much respect to the victims’ families. There’s been little sensationalism (so far) of the alleged gunman’s crime and personal history. Everyone connected to the tragedy–especially the law enforcement agencies and emergency response teams– have performed extraordinarily well under unthinkable circumstances.
Communication in such a moment of crisis has to be accurate, empathetic and, for the most part, immediate. These are the moments where public relations practitioners are at their best. Every authoritative entity involved in the theatre massacre needed to release facts and comments. The police departments, the FBI, the fire departments, the hospitals, the theatre owner Cinemark, the mayor of Aurora, Colorado’s governor, the gunman’s high school and colleges, the “Batman” promotions team, and other related institutions quickly disseminated information and made statements to the press. Even Barack Obama and Mitt Romney–both on scheduled campaign swings that day–suspended their activities and struck the right tone in their remarks to the American people.
And whatever their titles, the communication staffs for each of these entities have consistently been at the top of their public relations game, doing a superb job under the most difficult of circumstances. They’ve set the right tone at a time when mistakes could easily be made as information and public sentiment is moved so quickly to the media. Your thoughts?