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The Key to Crisis Management Often is to Get People to Do Nothing

A couple years out of college, while working as an account executive at an Arizona public relations/public affairs firm, I helped spearhead a public relations campaign related to the first proposed and privately built toll road in Arizona (the project shut down after a comprehensive economic evaluation concluded the financials wouldn’t work).

We were coordinating open houses in the related community and placed ads in the local newspaper saying “the toll road will be completed by (whatever the estimated date was).” The reporter for the community newspaper covering the issue called and accused me and my firm of trying to steamroll the project through by making people think it was a done deal, as evidenced by the phrase “will be” rather than “could be” or “would be.” He threatened to write nasty articles “exposing” our motives, although that wasn’t our intent at all.

The reporter wielded a lot of influence in that market and would not be swayed by anything we said. Over the next day or two, we and the client organization deliberated and debated whether or not to reproduce all of our informational materials.

Eventually, we decided that the cost associated with changing all of the ads and all of our collateral material, including fact sheets, Q&A sheets, brochures, the Web site, and all of our open house boards and displays to change the one word far outweighed the cost of losing the project altogether.

That was one expensive word, but definitely worth it in terms of the long-term relationship we salvaged with the reporter, who appreciated our decision and started giving us the benefit of the doubt. Did he change his reporting and become a cheerleader for the project? No. But that was the point. We weren’t trying to get him to be a passionate advocate for us – that wasn’t going to happen. We were simply hoping he would remain fair in his reporting. In essence, we were trying to get him to do nothing.

Many times, the goal of issues or crisis management is not to get everyone on your side, but to solidify your small supporting base and get the majority to do nothing different at all.

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