Most buildings have emergency preparedness plans in case of fires, floods, or hurricanes. But there’s one form of crisis that very few have an organized response for: the public relations disaster. It could come in the form of a scandal, criminal indictment, or even (especially these days) a nasty bedbug infestation. Managers and board members not only have to handle the crisis itself, whatever it may be, but they must also address the aftermath and communicate with residents and sometimes the press about the situation. And that's something that takes poise and forethought to handle correctly and with minimal drama.
“It’s the lack of preparedness that’s really the undoing of most organizations in these cases,” says Gerry McCusker, a Melbourne, Australia-based reputation management consultant and author of the book Public Relations Disasters: Talespin—Inside Stories & Lessons Learnt. “Most organizations think, ‘Well, that could never happen to us.’ ”
Media consultants like McCusker say that having procedures in place to handle bad news should be right up there with installing smoke detectors and emergency signage, because in the age of Twitter and other social networking tools, speed and accuracy are two main tools to help defuse bad PR. You don’t want to still be deciding who the condo spokesperson is as reporters are showing up in the parking lot.
"I think there's a general outline or framework,” says Donald Miller of Rockville Centre, Long Island-based PR firm Harrison Leifer DiMarco, Inc., "and it involves a couple of things. One of them is planning ahead and defining roles and responsibilities. Management companies and organizations sometimes fail to realize the value of having a crisis plan in place before these things happen. Planning ahead is essential. Obviously, life and personal safety is paramount. I think that's one thing that building managers should realize and that always put the public's best interest ahead of the organization's."
A single spokesperson is the best answer and it’s important not to have conflicting information especially when the media is involved, says Michael Berenson, president of Manhattan-based AKAM Associates. “It's very important when dealing with a disaster that there's one voice,” says Berenson. “It's important that if there are seven board members and the superintendent in the building that has knowledge, or intimate knowledge of an incident or issue, that all seven people do not discuss it with the press. That one communication comes out in writing from the management of the company.