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Breaking down a crisis

December 9, 2010

Source: piercemattiepublicrelations.com

I’m a student right now and graduate school definitely comes with its perks, one being the chance to meet seasoned professionals in the PR industry. Anita Foster, chief communications officer at the American Red Cross Dallas Chapter, recently visited my class and shared insight into crisis communication. Foster identified four stages people generally go through when facing a crisis: 

  1. Shock: When a crisis occurs, whether it’s a hurricane or a house fire, the people affected are initially left wondering what just happened. The reality of the event has not sunk in yet.
  2. Honeymoon: It seems everyone wants to help out at this stage. Outreach programs and community assistance leave those involved in a crisis overwhelmed by generosity.
  3. Disillusionment: Once the shock subsides and the honeymoon is over, it’s normal for people to feel disenchanted and look for someone to blame.
  4. Acceptance: Eventually, most people reach a point where they accept what happened and move on with their lives.

Not everyone will go through every stage. Some may skip while others get stuck. What’s important as PR professionals is recognizing these stages so we can better understand where people are coming from and how to best communicate with them. Think of it as a glimpse into human nature, since in crisis communication you’re dealing with people when their emotions are running high. Imagine how you’d feel if you were in their shoes, and use this insight to reach out and relate.

Have you stepped through these stages with your company or with your clients? I’m interested in any insights you can share.

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