Lothery & Associates

People Before Profits=Less Need for Crisis Communication Plans

It’s been quite a week. First, we learn of a young college student’s death, after he was sent to the top of a more than 30 foot tower to shoot video, and was literally blown over. Then today, we learned that BP and Halliburton apparently knew there were problems with the oil rig in the gulf two weeks prior to the deadly explosion and worst oil spill in US History.

So what do these two events have to do with each other? The decision makers were thinking about their needs and their interests, above all else, resulting in a major crisis, and massive clean-up work (literally and figuratively) to be done. Let’s begin with Declan Sullivan from Notre Dame. This young man posted on his Twitter Account, “Gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Well today will be fun at work. I guess I’ve lived long enough,” just a few hours before his death. While weather reports cite 40-50 mph winds, it’s still blowing enough for a rational, observant human being to know that no one should be dangling more than 30 feet above ground in those conditions. But as many critics are saying today, the decision maker was too focused on the business of football, to pay attention to the very real, very dangerous risk that was present.

As a result, the school had to button down into crisis mode, launch investigations, talk to people, and have a very sad, very unfortunate, very preventable conversation with Mr. Sullivan’s family. They have to answer questions by the media, decide the fate of a prominent coach, determine the consequences, set new policies, communicate the changes, and then reinforce them. All while operating with a blemish on their image.

BP and Halliburton are feverishly playing the “hot-potato-blame-game” with regards to the rig explosion and oil spill in the gulf earlier this year. As it turns out, according to reports, they knew there was a problem with the cement two weeks prior to the accident. They proceeded to repeat the tests until they found one that would pass, rather than addressing the ”failure” found in the original test.

We all know the result of that. Good men killed, thousands without jobs, an economy, shoreline, and wildlife ruined. We saw BP in front of Congress. We saw interviews, and public relations moves. We saw a series of commercials with BP employees promising to restore the shore and the gulf to the way they found it. We saw them promising to restore jobs, and compensate employees.

All are good messages. And both groups have worked their crisis communication plans. But here’s the kicker. Had they put their people first, they may not have had to activate their crisis plans. They may not have had to lose potential millions in one case and billions in the other. They may have been able to exist without a permanent black mark on their record. People first lessens the need for a crisis communication plan. Sure, you should always have one. You should even take it out for a test drive or two, when you’re not actually in a crisis. But every company should have a crisis communication plan that includes step number one, “take preventative measures to avoid a crisis.”

With that said, let’s do a quick review of the core crisis communications principles:

  • Address all “people” needs/risks/damages and concerns first.
  • Address all environmental needs/risks damages second.
  • THEN…and this is a distant third, unless your audience is your shareholders, discuss the financial or monetary impact last. If you are viewed to put profit before people or places, you will always be viewed as the villain, and need to do twice the work to return to your original state. Again, your shareholders may want to know the financial impact early and often, but that should be a private conversation, away from public or media audiences.

Finally, absence of information becomes a breeding ground for fear, wandering imagination and gross exaggeration. Remember to communicate early and often to all stakeholders.

Good luck and remember to consider your people first.


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