Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Networking for Crisis Communicators

“When a crisis or misunderstanding occurs, it is too late to build a relationship. It must be cultivated beforehand over time, one conversation and one friendship at a time.”
-Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

When the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami slammed Japan on March 11, the US and more than 100 other countries jumped in to help. The US military was in a particularly good position to offer assistance. About 87,000 US Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are based in Japan. Within hours, the military was in action responding to the crisis. 

That response was more effective because of more than 60 years of relationship building between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the US military. We knew them and they knew us. (Disclosure: I'm a Navy Reserve PAO and I spent the last 30 days on the Crisis Action Team for the Joint Support Force that led US military efforts during the disaster.) Everyday networking paid off big in Japan.

Another example from last year was a gunman at the headquarters of the Discovery Channel. One of the lessons learned according to Discovery's Senior VP of Corporate Affairs and Communications Michelle Russo was to consult with other businesses in your community on your crisis plan. Discovery employees evacuated the building rapidly and left things like car keys, briefcases and purses in their offices. One nearby organization assigned two people to help get Discovery employees home. Seems simple, but knowing your neighbors helped Discovery ensure its people were taken care of. (Big hat tip to PR pro Aimee Stern. Check out her post on the Discovery Gunman, it's worth the read.) 

Why not invite your police department to participate in a drill on a Discovery Channel style scenario at one of your sites? Or, invite one of your competitors to sit in on a crisis exercise where you may need some of their resources to get through the day. Or, sit down with the spokesperson for the Mayor and find out how they will respond if there is a crisis at your facility. All it will cost you is some time and maybe the price of a cup of coffee, and you'll be better prepared.

If you're not great at networking, read Peter Shankman's blog. It's got plenty of tips for how to get connected with people and stay connected with them. 

All crises involve people. Take Admiral Mullen's advice and start building the relationships with people you'll need one conversation at a time. 

Bill Salvin


  1. Love it, Bill. I make a point to attend all of the public info trainings in my region, not for the coursework (though that's sometimes helpful), but instead for the opportunity to meet other folks who do this work. I bring a stack of business cards and make sure my hands are sanitized. It's one of the most valuable things I do.

    Thanks for reminding us all,

  2. Jim, it's never just one event that gets it done, it is exactly as you describe going to every opportunity you can to meet people and talk about our craft. Thanks for reading.