Communicating With Customers During A Crisis

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_This article is by Guest Contributor Kate Trgovac, reporting from the “BlogOn”:http://www.blogonevent.com/blogon2005 conference. Here are her impressions of “Damage Control – Communicating with Your Customers in Time of Crisis Conversation” with Gil Schwartz, EVP Communications, CBS Television._
Lisa Poulson, Managing Director of Burson-Marsteller led a lively discussion with Schwartz on the similarities and differences in crisis communication in the pre- & post-blog eras.
When asked what the big differences are, Schwartz suggested:
# Time frame. Everything happens *now*. Before, in PR, you had time to prep your clients, craft a message, get all the right people involved. Now, you have to respond immediately. And sometimes things get missed.
# Possibility for *any* issue to become a huge PR issue. Before, it was easier to predict what would become a big PR issue – for example, crises like the Tylenol tampering and the Union Carbide disaster. Now, anything can become a crisis – and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.


Schwartz shared his concerns about bloggers. The line between MSM (main stream media) and blogs no longer really exists. Bloggers really need to hold themselves to a certain journalistic standard. It’s not good enough to say “It’s just a blog”. Not sufficient to say “I heard it”.
When asked how he’d like bloggers to confirm stories, he said “call me”. Call the company that you’re writing about to verify the story. You must give them the opportunity to respond.
A final concern Schwartz shared is that blogs allow for an individual’s personal musings on a topic to be elevated to news. It’s the nature of the medium, but it does a disservice to the public. Schwartz recommended that the audience check out “Public Eye”:http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/publiceye/main500486.shtml (CBS News’ own blog) for an example of blogging standards.
My observations: In general, there is a lot of tension between “professionals” (whether PR or journalist) and “bloggers”. This is an issue that came up a number of times. It was addressed in more detail in a later panel on PR folks “pitching” bloggers. Seems to me, a lot of it is semantics. “Blogger” as a title is becoming a pejorative label. One audience member said “why aren’t we just called ‘writers’?” Good question.
Another issue that came up in audience questions is the definition of journalistic standards. Earlier in the day, McArdory from DaimlerChrysler defined them as: Accuracy, Fairness, Perspective and Context. To me, very reasonable. And what I, as a writer would hold myself to. Some members of the audience seemed to bristle at this. Which I found a little odd. This question will come up again and again. And related to it – is blogging really a new phenomenon, or is it simply a new channel (or really, an extension of an existing channel, the Internet, but it’s just *way* easier to publish now).
Overall, though, this was a great conversation. Schwartz was gruff, outspoken, endearing and pulled-no-punches. It was amazing to hear from such a senior individual and to hear someone who is an advocate for bloggers, but be able to take them to task. Great talk!
_Kate Trgovac is currently Manager, Web Evolution for Petro-Canada. Prior to joining Petro-Canada, Kate spent eight years developing user experience strategies for clients at several interactive agencies in Toronto. She writes about technology, branding, user-experience and other topics of note on her blog “mynameiskate.ca”:http://www.mynameiskate.ca/ ._

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