Jim Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus, has a distinguished reputation as an expert on crisis communications. If you missed his recent presentation in Philadelphia, you might want to consider kicking yourself for not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn firsthand from one of the top authorities on the subject.
Jim shared practical approaches to handling a crisis and how communicators can play a vital role in providing helpful, incremental advice their CEO can use immediately. He stressed the importance of being an advisor to the CEO and gathering data and resources so he or she can make informed decisions.
He noted that in management school, future CEOs aren’t taught how to handle a crisis, and most think that it will never happen to them. However, when a crisis hits, the CEO and other top executives are frequently fired. Hence, succession planning could become part of a crisis communications plan.
Jim highlighted the importance of managing the “victim dimension” of a crisis situation. He called victims the “most powerful people on the planet” because they often drive news media coverage during a crisis. Victims need validation, visibility, vindication and an apology, Jim added.
Discrediting a victim is never a good idea, he said, and he called answering questions during a crisis “the great detoxifier.”
This may seem obvious, but readiness for a crisis is critical. “You need to be prepared to get things right as quickly as you can,” Jim said. One of the essential elements of a crisis communications plan is a list of key employees and their contact information. If a crisis happens, “you need to know how to find people,” he noted.
During a crisis he said silence about the problem is “always toxic and there is no reasonable explanation” for it.
“You’re 140 characters away from not being trusted,” Jim added. He recommended communicating with employees first and then issuing statements under 100 words rather than press releases, which take longer to write and get approved. He added that statements should be attributed to a real person who works for the company or organization. In his experience companies have attributed statements to fictitious people, a practice he does not recommend.
Jim told a variety of interesting stories about companies he has worked with which reinforced the advice he shared with participants. He also generously provided attendees with three of his CDs, “Ingredients of Leadership,” “How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist and Become a Trusted Advisor” and “Becoming a “Verbal Visionary.”
Those who attended this workshop not only had the opportunity to learn from one of best crisis communications experts, but they walked away with invaluable advice to put into practice immediately.
A special thanks goes to Janet Skidmore, a member of the IABC Philadelphia programming committee, who invited Jim to speak and coordinated the logistics of hosting the workshop.
For more information about Jim Lukaszewski, visit www.e911.com.