What not to do in a crisis

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Q. What's the best way to handle negative news about my company or the DME industry in general?

A. Watching Tiger Woods' disastrous handling of his extra-marital transgressions was a painful reminder of what not to do in a media crisis. Ever since my days working in television news, I've always warned my public relations clients never to lie to reporters because they will always ferret out the truth and you'll be left with egg on your face. Remember former President Bill Clinton? What about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford?

While it's human instinct to run away in a crisis, that's the wrong thing for a company or industry to do when negative news hits. The first rule of thumb in crisis communications is to identify the problem and create an action plan. This means writing a public statement and frequently asked questions for the company or industry spokesman to deliver to the news media.

The way Johnson & Johnson handled Tylenol laced with cyanide in 1982 has become a classic example of good crisis communications. The company immediately acknowledged the problem, pulled the product from the shelves and told consumers to stop using it. J&J then used the news media to publicize an 800-number and actively communicate about the crisis. This is why the product survived and, more importantly, so did J&J's brand.

In many ways, the DME industry finds itself in the throes of crisis communications. To reverse the current regulatory tide in its favor, the DME industry must get aggressive in facing its problem, which is a lack of public awareness about how DME suppliers fit into the healthcare equation. The industry needs to aggressively educate the news media on how suppliers reduce healthcare costs by keeping people in their homes. Supported by data, research and testimonials, that's a recipe for good crisis communications--and industry survival. hme

Crystal Wright is a public relations strategist for Baker Wright Group in Washington, D.C. Reach her at 202-829-0848 or crystal@bakerwright.com.