Thursday 25 July, 2019

One small step for man could’ve been one giant misstep

50 years ago, mankind made a giant leap and touched down on the moon.

The moment the Eagle landed on the surface of the moon on 20 July 1969 was historic for our species and as Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on its barren surface, the Earth’s population held their breath in suspense.

But what if the worst were to happen? What if Michael Collins came home alone? Well, at the White House, President Nixon was prepared to address the world and announce their fate.

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

Thankfully, these words were never delivered and strictly speaking, they weren’t even Nixon’s words. They were written by Bill Safire, a speechwriter for the president and who later went on to work at the New York Times.

Bill ensured that the president was ready and the affect that his statement would’ve had on consoling a broken-hearted world shouldn’t be overlooked. This drafted statement is one of the most sobering and poignant reminder of the enormity of the task and very real, now often overlooked mortal peril it presented.

While this example sits on the far edge of what can happen, anyone who operates in the realm of crisis communications knows the saying ‘plan for the worst but hope for the best’ and you too shouldn’t underestimate the impact that timely, accurate and responsive communications can have during bad times.

So when it comes to putting together your own crisis response plan, consider the following:

Be human

Should the worse happen, it’s likely that countless processes will kick in and back-up plans will be put into action. Amongst all the organised chaos, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and forget that real people are likely to be impacted. So don’t forget that you too are human.

Communicate like a real person and express care, concern and commitment in your response. Sci-fi spaceships may have talking computers but you aren’t one and that could be your biggest asset. You’ll be surprised at how far empathetic language can go in preserving and protecting your reputation.

Be ready

Crises can be fast-moving events so preparation is key. If you know the most likely dangers to your operations, have event-specific language and templates pre-approved.

Also, consider having spokespeople agreed (and briefed) beforehand and ensure you have a list of people to call upon for approvals on additional statements and social media posts.

Be a team

Neil Armstrong didn’t get to the moon by himself and no one person can contain and respond to a far-reaching crisis. Remember that you are part of a team and ensure you have people in place to help support you.

If extra support is needed at the scene of an incident, within an emergency response room, or to respond to the media, call them in. Even if you ultimately send them home, it’s best to have additional support ready to go than have a costly delay in scrambling to get people mobilised.

Be like Bill

Luckily, Bill’s statement was never broadcast to the world but the important thing is that he was prepared.

He had planned for the worst and the best, thankfully, happened. The three astronauts of Apollo 11 made it to the surface of the moon and back, completing the most audacious adventure we have ever contemplated.

The trio of explorers rode ticker-tape parades in New York City and Chicago, spoke before Congress and embarked on a world tour that saw them visit 22 foreign countries.

Missions to the moon were becoming almost routine in the minds of the public until the near-disaster of Apollo 13. Nixon even had a plan drawn up in case the mission ended in tragedy.

If the astronauts died as their damaged spacecraft limped home, Nixon was to leave immediately for Houston to visit Mission Control and the spouses of the astronauts. All three astronauts would have also been posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom.

The contingency plan wasn’t needed as Apollo 13 eventually splashed down in the ocean. However, again, it highlighted the importance of needing to know what to do during a crisis. It’s important to be prepared.

When we work with clients to manage their crisis response, we too are prepared and ensure they are too.

We, are like Bill.