June 30, 2010
|[AP Wide World Photos]|
Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed sections of the Gulf Coast, area hotels and destinations are again facing a crisis that’s threatening everything from wildlife to tourism.
To reconcile the BP oil spill disaster, a panel of PR professionals — in a teleseminar hosted by PRSA’s Travel and Tourism Professional Interest Section last Friday — discussed how lessons learned from Katrina are applicable in calming the effects of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy today.
“What we’ve learned from Hurricane Katrina is that we need to have a one-voice strategy,” said John Deveney, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, adding that he’s impressed by the collaboration of local governments, media and businesses affected by the oil spill. “This strategic partnership of sharing information is what we’ve found successful in [the past], and it’s what we’re using here.”
Deveney, whose firm Deveney Communications helped manage the PR woes caused by Katrina in New Orleans, continues to work with the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
“The focus of the response in Louisiana is one of partnerships,” he said. “The golden rule of what we’re doing is communicating often and reliably — not just with media — but with all stakeholders.”
Mary Cracchiolo-Spain, the regional public relations director of MGM’s Mirage Mississippi Operations, added that crises make planning and communication — basic tenants of any PR campaign — more crucial.
“Perception becomes reality for some people,” she said. “Key challenges are dispelling rumors and responding to negative media coverage.”
Cracchiolo-Spain’s hotel reopened just one year after Katrina struck the coast in 2005. She said MGM learned that taking a sympathetic voice in messaging is essential to managing any crisis.
“We are very mindful of the psychological aspects [that crises] can have on our employees and communities,” she said.
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, discussed the theories why some crises explode while others seem to vanish.
“All crises follow patterns — from robberies to weather disasters — that you can use to forecast and plan for [other] crises,” he said.
Lukeszewski, president of the Lukeszewski Group, a PR consultancy that specializes in crisis management, said that failing to manage the “victim relationship” is what tends to aggravate crises.
“You have to stop the production of victims and put the fire out,” he said. “You must put protections in place. It’s job [number] one.”
Controlling your crisis
Together, Deveney, Cracchiolo-Spain and Lukeszewski offered the following takeaways that will help you manage your catastrophe — whether it’s an oil spill, a hurricane or a routine crisis.