Handling high visibility environments, aka a crisis

What most people call a crisis, Jim Vance refers to as a “high visibility environment.”

He should know. He was on the DC sniper task force and assisted with Hurricane Katrina. He also was the media & communications specialist and spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Today he is a highly sought after media trainer.

Vance told a group of PR practitioners that he focuses on being prepared. Learning by experience, he said, is often brutal.

Some of the common management mistakes that occur during a crisis include:

Hesitation: If one hesitates when speaking to the media, others may perceive it as confusion and incompetence.

Obfuscation: When you attempt to confuse the message, you create a perception of dishonesty and insensitivity.

Revelation: One of the biggest mistakes, Vance said, is the failure to understand that revelation is inevitable. “Your actions will be revealed sooner or later,” he said.

Prevarication: “There is no substitute for the absolute truth,” Vance said.

In preparing for the worst, Vance said to take into account

–Dueling egos

–Political interference

–Media persistence

He offered tips to effectively work with the media and handle a crisis. His tips include:

–Be calm and then speak. The public is expecting leadership, Vance said, so it’s important that the spokesperson is able to speak without emotion and with clarity.

–Acknowledge what you know and don’t know. Vance noted that 90 percent of all first accounts are wrong. “It’s important to say things like, ‘Based on what we know at this time,’” which allows the speaker to update the information later.

–“You can’t have enough resources against the backdrop of bad news,” he said.

In all planning, remember that critics need a target. That leaves you with two crisis options.

  1. Clam up
  2. Mess Up, Fess Up, Clean Up

The first scenario guarantees “your side won’t be heard,” Vance said. “Critics are lashing out with unchallenged statements.”

Instead, Vance said to look at crisis situations as powerful communications opportunities – if management is prepared to engage and seize the opportunity.

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