What to do when facing crisis

Public relations people sometimes give press conferences. Via Flickr user Ars Electronica.

Public relations people sometimes give press conferences. Via Flickr user Ars Electronica.

Journalists taunt public relations people, and PR people taunt journalists. It’s the way the world works.

But I set feuding aside Wednesday night and went to a panel for University of Georgia journalism school alumni on how PR people can manage crises. (I was with a friend, and there was free food afterward. Winning combination.)

What is a crisis, you ask? It’s when something tarnishes an organization’s reputation. For instance, Boeing’s Dreamliner was grounded earlier this year for a few months because its batteries overheated, causing a fire in one case. You can bet Boeing’s reputation was damaged from the incident.

So the panel included people from Porter Novelli, a PR firm, and professors from the University of Georgia. For an hour, they talked about how to deal with crises and protect an organization’s reputation.

Many times, the panel brought up crises, and I reacted with my journalist brain. Yes, that would make a great story! Tales of wronged employees and error-prone companies abounded. But instead of the PR people thinking all of these would make captivating articles, they took a different approach: how to deal with these crises and the ensuing media blitz and consumer outrage.

It’s intriguing to see it from the other side. Since I work in aviation, there are crises threatening companies all the time — airplane malfunctions and crashes, price cartels, job cuts, security issues, etc. Right now, American Airlines is dealing with the U.S. government blocking its merger with US Airways.

Aviation is a volatile business, so there’s something every week.

The panel didn’t make me desire a career in PR, but it was beneficial to hear the other side.

Now I know how a PR person feels when I, a member of the media, call for quotes about the latest job cuts. For them, it’s part of the crisis.

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