Recently, I led a breakout session at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism. My topic was “effective crisis management foundations” – a condensed version of a training program that we’ve built at Ketchum. It’s our belief that you cannot have strong crisis management approaches, nor plans or systems, without the foundation of a strong crisis management leader. SALES PITCH: If you’re ever interested in learning more about this leadership training opportunity from Ketchum, drop me a line.
During the Q&A session, the tourism pros asked questions that may yield lessons for others, so I’ve captured those here. Disclaimer: Everything below is paraphrased from memory, since I couldn’t take notes during the session.
Q: When an organization faces a determined critic, when should criticisms be ignored, and when is it time to address the critic?
A: This is difficult to answer specifically because so many factors need to be considered. However, in general, begin by analyzing the critic…and the criticisms. Is the critic credible to your audiences that matter? Is the critic making an impact on your business? How much traction might the critic or criticisms gain through social media? Are the criticisms easy to defend, or do they require deeper explanation? If the latter, is there a way to tell your side of the story in a compelling way? These are just starter questions, of course – there are many more factors to consider before “getting down in the mud,” if required.
Q: Recently, a reporter called our tourism desk to confirm some specific environmental effects of the oil spill. I tried to explain to my managers that we should not respond to this request — we’re not the experts on this. They pushed me to respond. Is there ever a good time to avoid the media’s calls?
A: In general, I don’t like media avoidance. I do like media caution. When a negative event draws a ton of sensational media coverage, you have to be extra careful not to get misquoted or misrepresented. In this case, I would have preferred you simply provided the reporter with the phone number of your state’s Department of Environmental Protection. If the reporter tries to get you to comment anyway, that’s when you can just say “that’s not our area of expertise but I might help you with tourism questions” to avoid a misquote.
Q: We had a multi-day crisis situation a few years ago. On one of the first days, I responded to one reporter with some statistics. Unfortunately, those same statistics got echoed in other media outlets for weeks and months – even though the statistics became outdated (due to the changing nature of the crisis). How do you keep the media updated on “week three” information, when they keep re-reporting “week one” information that you provided earlier?
A: Control the information flow through a steady stream of regularly provided information. If your organization is active on social media, provide your updates there. If not, use your website as the beacon for the latest updates. If the updated statistics are important to provide in the interest of public safety – then you need to take more drastic steps. Seek corrections. Consider paid placements. Get the information in the hands of officials who may help you in the response.
Postscript: During the session, I was able to connect with Dr. Lori Pennington-Gray, who is the Director of the Tourism Crisis Management Institute of the University of Florida. She has graciously accepted my offer to respond to the “Three Tough Q’s” interview format on this blog in the next few weeks.
Do you have any tourism-related crisis questions to ask? Shoot me a note, and I’ll include your question in the interview!