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Crisis Communications 101 for your Business

By LVEDC Staff on August 20, 2013

On Thursday, August 22nd  the International Association of Business Communications of the Lehigh Valley will host three of the region’s communication strategists who will give an inside account of their respective organizations’ response to the crisis spurred from the fury of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. LVEDC recently interviewed one of the strategists, Lissette Santana, manager of digital media with PPL Corporation. The discussion will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. on at Muhlenberg College’s Hoffman House. Check out IABC’s event page for more information.

LVEDC: There’s little doubt Hurricane Sandy will go down in the Lehigh Valley as one of the storms of century. How did the speakers at your August 22nd luncheon prepare for the storm in the days prior to it hitting the Lehigh Valley and then execute that strategy during the resulting days of mayhem and destruction?

Lissette Santana: PPL prepared extensively for Hurricane Sandy. Knowing it would be a major storm affecting many of our customers in communities throughout Pennsylvania, we proactively reached out to stakeholders in our 29-county service territory. While the utility focused on preparing for the storm by securing crews to assist in restoration efforts and extra staff to man the customer service call center, the communications team worked to inform the public about what we were doing to prepare and what they could do to be ready for what was expected to be a major storm. In addition to issuing news releases and working directly with contacts in local media outlets, we sent out email blasts to customers that promoted our social media channels as a way for them to stay informed before, during and after the storm. As in preparation for any major emergency, our strategy included development of talking points, identifying the audiences we needed to reach, scheduling our staff to ensure 24/7 coverage and preparing all the logistics needed to communicate with key stakeholders (public, media, elected officials, EMS, etc.)

Q: What are the basic tenants for any organization involving crisis communications?

A: In my opinion, the basic tenants for any organization for crisis communications are being prepared, practicing and then transparency.

At PPL, we are constantly practicing what our response would be in an emergency situation to ensure that our staff are prepared to handle whatever comes our way – whether that’s a major outage or emergency at one of our power plants. In the age of blogs, YouTube videos and 24/7 media coverage, transparency should also be a basic principal for crisis communications to ensure the company’s reputation and credibility remain intact. It’s something we take very seriously. We are honest and forthright with our communications, even when the news is bad. On social media especially, this tactic has proven itself in an effort to gain the trust of our stakeholders when the stakes are highest.

Q: What are the most important facts to get out to the public during crisis communications to protect the integrity of an organization’s reputation while still providing salient and factual information?

Our approach to communications is to get out the most relevant facts as quickly as possible. These usually fall in the following major categories:

First we want to discuss what happened. Then what we are doing to address it, followed by what the public needs to do.

Q: After the crisis has passed, what is the follow up work involved to keep the trust and engagement of the public and customers?

After any emergency or crisis, we will do a lessons learned review and make sure we assess what went right and what went wrong. We let our stakeholders know what we are doing to improve and we stand behind those messages. With social media, it’s possible to get immediate feedback. We often change our approach or messages based on the input we are getting and when we do so, we let our stakeholders know it’s because of their input.

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