What I love about communications is the fact that we can play many different roles and wear many different hats every single day – some certainly more glamorous than others. One day we might be jetting off to accompany journalists on a trip to a foreign country, while another we are tasked with delivering a somber message on behalf of a client in times of tragedy. No matter the circumstance, we must be adaptable, nimble and up for the challenge.
Last summer, I attended the Global PR Summit in Iceland, where I was immersed in a side of communications that is its own animal: Crisis Communications. Through a mock press conference, I played the role of a frantic mother who had just lost her child in a tragic accident. While I found my short-lived acting stint to be a challenge, I began to think about the real challenges that PR professionals face in times like these. I decided to dig in to the ins and outs of this intricate practice and how they have changed in recent years.
I went to one of the authorities on the topic – rbb’s very own founder, Bruce Rubin. Bruce is one of the country’s top crisis communications practitioners, specializing in crisis, emergency and litigation PR. He has guided some of the most high-profile corporations and individuals in the nation and the world through a wide range of difficult and sensitive matters over the years.
“Crisis communications is an exciting area of public relations and you get to work with smart people,” Bruce said. “Very often, you have a situation where the client feels that they’ve gone under the water twice, and you are the life ring. In a crisis situation, clients listen.”
Bruce shared his most interesting experiences, as well as his take on the changing face of crisis communications. We explored which guiding principles are now outdated, which are here to stay, and what the future has in store.
What has been the biggest change in crisis communications over the past ten years?
Bruce: The proliferation of the 24/7 news cycle has made news stories move along the pipeline faster, so the staying power of negative stories about your client now has less sticking effect.
Do you think the impact of social media on crisis communications has been mostly negative or positive? Why?
Bruce: Mostly overrated. Occasionally it has an impact, but mostly not. Most people have the attention span of a flea, and social media, by its very nature, is all about moving on to the next thing.
What are three key things you learned about crisis communications when starting your career that are still relevant today?
Bruce: Stay calm. Take control. Make the right diagnosis, and act accordingly.
What is a common misconception about crisis communications that you’d like to address?
Bruce: First, the need to create a crisis manual. Second, the misconception that any PR person can do this.
What is one lesson you learned about crisis communications that you feel no longer applies?
Bruce: “Tell it all, tell it fast, tell it yourself.” Nothing could be further from the truth. These crises are all nuanced and you don’t treat them the same way. There are times when you want to talk to the media and times you don’t.
Have you made any mistakes during your career?
Bruce: Early in my career, I was retained by a bank that was undergoing a lawsuit. In addition to approaching the media to address this head-on, we decided to write a letter to customers to explain the situation and put them at ease. This letter caused great consternation and panic amongst the bank’s clientele. What I learned is that people don’t read beyond a headline.
To learn more about rbb’s Crisis Management capabilities, feel free to contact Bruce Rubin at Bruce.Rubin@rbbcommunications.com.