Crisis Communications and the Importance of Timing

They say that timing is everything. And when I say “they” I mean everyone—literally everyone says that phrase. In fact, if you google “quotes about timing” you will find search results from movies, the Bible, songs, and more. You will find quotes from athletes like Yogi Berra and Carl Lewis and actors like Drew Barrymore and Clint Eastwood.

I would have to agree. Timing is everything; especially when it comes to crisis communications.

Crisis communications can be defined as “a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.”  Basically, crisis communication is what a company does to lessen the amount of damages inflicted when a crisis happens.

Crises can range from faulty products (think Firestone Tires) to natural disasters (think BP Oil Spill), and they can strike at any moment. That is why it is imperative that every Public Relations Specialist has a thorough Crisis Communications Plan ready to execute at the drop of a hat. Why? Because timing is everything.

The worst case scenario for any PR professional would be for their clients/customers to hear about their company’s misfortune from somebody else (for example, the media).

Let me give you another example that you might not have considered:

In December of 2013, one of my friends texted me with an alarming message – “Did you hear that Dr. Smith died!?!?” (For reference, Dr. Smith (name changed) was my doctor. She was a young, healthy woman who unexpectedly passed away.) I was shocked to hear this news, and even more shocked to hear it from a friend. When I asked her how she had found out, she said she saw it in the obituaries. Fast forward a few months, and I was shocked that my doctor’s office had not yet called or sent a letter to inform me of my doctor’s passing. In fact, when I went to their website, her name was still listed as one of the practicing doctors! Fast forward to yesterday – October 20 – approximately 10 months (MONTHS) after my doctor passed away, and I got a call from her office. They were calling to let me know that it was time for my annual checkup and also to share some unfortunate news, which they phrased, “Dr. Smith is no longer practicing medicine… because she passed away.”  I was completely appalled at the way that they handled this issue and had to inform the nurse that called me that I had heard of Dr. Smith’s passing months prior, and had already found a new doctor. Maybe if the office would have called me right away I would have stayed with that practice, but instead I am now no longer a patron of theirs.

I told you that story in order to reinforce the idea that no matter how bad a situation seems or how awkward it may be to tell clients about an issue, confess to being wrong, or share an unfortunate happenstance; it will always ALWAYS be more awkward if you wait. So, PR friends, do like the experts do and plan your crisis management before the crisis happens.

  • Get press release and letter templates written

  • Create and disseminate a chain of command to your employees

  • Train those who will be involved in the process on what constitutes a crisis.

I promise it will be worth your time to be prepared. Then, when something does go awry, you will be equipped to move quickly and early, because, remember… timing is everything.