Crisis Communications, Planning for the Unexpected

“If you don’t feed the dogs quickly, they’ll start to rummage through the garbage,” said Brandy King, senior communications manager for Southwest Airlines.

That was her advice to the PRSA Richmond chapter during a recent meeting about “Planning for the Unexpected.”

“It’s not what we say but how, where and how quickly,” she noted. “If you’re dark, you’re just not part of the conversation.”

She talked about the importance of a crisis communications plan. At Southwest the plan is “built around the biggest crisis we could have – an airplane crash.” The plan includes identifying a media briefing room and providing a phone bank.

During a crisis, a member of the Southwest Airlines communications team is part of the company’s Emergency Command Center. This allows the person to understand all aspects of the crisis and is critical to the company’s effective handling of the situation, Brandy said.

If a crisis is of the magnitude that the existing communications staff is unable to keep up with call volume, other staff members are called in to assist. These staff members were trained in advance to take messages from reporters and the public. “We don’t want the media getting voice mail,” she said.

She also discussed the influence of social media on a crisis. “Customer situations that might have been a blip are now turning into a crisis on social media,” she observed. When it comes to communications, they key principles to remember are 

  • Speed
  • Substance
  • Distribution
  • Credibility
  • Public sentiment

Brandy’s best piece of advice – “We know we are never going to be fully prepared but that doesn’t stop us from trying to be fully prepared.”