It’s hard to maintain composure when all hell breaks loose.
That’s why many spokespeople commit communications errors in emergency situations.
Here are three common crisis miscues that PR pros make—and how to avoid them so you respond with poise and patience the next time bad news strikes:
1. Racing to be wrong. “In this 24/7 news cycle, responding to media requests can seem like the most pressing priority,” says Mary Simms, former spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“It’s not. Accuracy and strategy should always take priority,” she says. “This is especially true during tragedies like the Vegas [shootings], where initial casualty, fatality or even evacuation estimates can be miscalculated—even when provided by a verified source.”
For instance, the Las Vegas Police Department released Sunday evening alerts that shared the number of people transported to the hospital, but not how many were injured or in critical condition, as that number was likely to change.
“Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know,’ either because information is still evolving or because you aren’t the appropriate source,” says Simms.
Rushing to respond can be costly. In 2007, for example, Simms had just joined the EPA shortly after the Cosco Buscan slammed into the Golden Gate Bridge. Coast Guard officials shared early estimates that the oil spill had spewed 200 gallons of fuel. Twelve hours later, it was clear that was a gross underestimate. The 50,000-gallon spill made national news and resulted in lost public trust.
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