By Mary Elder
On Thursday, December 1, AU’s chapter of PRSSA was rocked with a crisis. …a crisis simulation that is. Michael W. Robinson, CEO of The Montgomery Strategies Group, came in to show us how critical it is to react appropriately in a crisis. In the world of crisis communications, it is a matter of when a crisis will happen, not if . When faced with a crisis, it is important to make sure everyone in the company is on the same page, the information given out is carefully considered, and all of the bases are covered.
This is the scenario we were given:
The crisis was based around a pharmaceutical product recall. Acme Pharmaceutical’s drug ciprofloxacin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, used to treat anthrax, was distributed to a 42-year-old mother of three. She was brought into Sibley Memorial Hospital on a Monday night for acute pneumonia, but died of heart failure. It was believed that she was given Cipro, but it was inert.
After the woman’s death, Sibley contacted the FDA who prepared a class 1 mandatory recall. The husband of the deceased woman was set to be on Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Also, her three teenage children set up a Facebook page and website that has been dominating social media with the hashtag #Acmekills.
Thursday, the company is set to report their second quarter earnings. Employees own stock as well as mutual funds that could be affected due to the controversy.
Our assignment was to draft a press release, inform employees and shareholders of the incident, and create a plan of action… all in 30 minutes. While it was tempting to run and hide during the crisis, we instead quickly composed ourselves and got to work.
Feedback after the simulation…
1. One press release said that there was a death.
Lesson: Don’t give away more information than you need to, especially if it can be harmful to your image.
2. Another one stated that they were positive that this was an isolated incident.
Lesson: Don’t talk in absolutes in case you are wrong and it backfires on you.
3. Some groups forgot to create an aspect of the plan the addressed social media.
Lesson: Always keep social media in mind, especially when the issue is consumer-facing.
Michael made sure to emphasize the fact that during a crisis it is important to act quickly and think of an issue from all sides. Having an all-encompassing plan put in place to handle a crisis can make the difference between front-page news and a sidebar.
During the crisis simulation, we all understood the importance of remaining calm and working together. None of us could have gotten through the crisis without each other. Each member of our team brought a special skill set to the crisis simulation that allowed us to get through it without making matters worse.