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Archive for the ‘Crisis Communications’ Category

I was watching CNN this afternoon after gutting my pumpkin and toasting the seeds when I heard about FEMA’s response to the California wild fires. I was blown away by the PR nightmare that has ensued. I actually sat around until they ran the story again to make sure I heard things right and then hit the computer.

For those who missed this one, FEMA issued a press conference last Tuesday to update the media and public on its response to the California fires and how it has been handling the situation. The conference was called last minute and the media was apparently unable to attend, but the conference took place anyway with FEMA employees posing as inquisitive reporters while FEMA directors answered questions. The tape of the fake conference was then issued to the media.

Once word got out about the staged press conference, FEMA issued an apology, saying that in its attempt to disseminate a lot of information to answer previous media questions, it had made an error in judgment and that the employees who had participated would be disciplined. However, only the AP was invited to witness that statement. Talk about making a bad situation worse. For more details, read and watch the story yourself.

Here’s the situation in my eyes. I give FEMA a nod for good intent. It wanted to answer questions, wanted to get information out about the situation and didn’t want to hide. All good things, however, there were a number of ways it could have done this aside from issuing a last minute press conference. (i.e. set up an FAQ area on its Web site, etc.) From case studies I covered in class, it seems to me that a common mistake made during crises is rushing into disseminating information without considering key messages, who should act as spokesperson and what the appropriate forum for distributing the message might be.

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