I’ll never forget where I was on May 21, 2007. What’s the significance, you might ask? Well, I was just about seven months into my first healthcare public relations job when the news broke. The New England Journal of Medicine published results of an analysis of data from over 40 clinical trials that found a 43% increased risk of heart attack among type 2 diabetes patients. These were not just any patients though. These were patients treated with a blockbuster diabetes medication – the very medication that I and a team of 10 strong had been working to support. A marquee client, if you will. Of course, as with any crisis communications situation, the resulting media fallout came quickly and seemed to linger – on and on and on. The FDA got involved, the government investigated, lawsuits ensued and the crisis was even dubbed the top healthcare issue of 2007.
The medication ultimately got a strict warning on its label in the U.S. and was pulled from the market elsewhere. Years later the healthcare industry still talks about the issue and when I run into old colleagues, we talk about “those times.”
This begs the question: what good can come from a crisis? For starters, an excellent learning opportunity. What follows are some tips for navigating your way through a crisis, no matter what industry you focus on:
The obvious – stay cool, calm and collected: your clients will be under immense pressure; tensions will be high. It may seem impossible, but try your best to keep a level head. If you need to take a step back and re-group, please do. Positive energy from the agency side will only help re-affirm just why you were chosen in the first place. Beyond keeping yourself and your team together, be there for your clients. To talk, to listen, to serve as a sounding board.
Keep on top of the news cycle: designate at least one or two team members to actively monitor the media – not only for client-facing updates but also to keep the internal team up to speed on the latest developments.
Stay two steps ahead: try your best to get ahead of the curve. For example, if you hear there’s going to be a government panel discussion open to the public, get those travel plans and conference rooms booked – well ahead of time.
Think beyond the crisis: “this too shall pass,” right? Though plans for proactive efforts or campaigns may stall in the near-term, keep ideas for the future on the back burner. Another crisis or major story of interest will always emerge. You won’t stay in the spotlight forever (though it may feel like it at the time).
Hopefully you’ll navigate through the storm. And if you’re lucky, you’ll emerge with the ability to help others fare just as well.
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