Everyday PR

Did Titanic Folks Have a Crisis Plan?

As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking has been commemorated in recent days, one can’t help but be reminded of the magnitude of this tragedy. Hundreds lost their lives, some families lost their lineage, and others survived, but barely.

As a public relations practitioner, I can’t help but wonder what, if any, crisis communications plans were prepared before that fateful day. I wonder if architects and engineers involved in the project, but not taking part in the voyage, contemplated a worse case scenario. What about the project’s investors? Then there are the industry leaders and elected officials of that era. Were any of them prepared on how to deal with victims, families, lawyers, manufacturers and countless others following the sinking of what was promoted as unsinkable?

While business leaders are more aware of crisis headlines, being prepared for them is another thing, especially when crisis situations can change by the hour. A politician is caught doing something stupid; a company unexpectedly files for bankruptcy; a community leader is busted; a natural disaster strikes; the list of potential crises is endless.

Recent research shows that the traits of a good crisis manager just happen to coincide with the traits of a good leader, not a surprising thought for PR war horses like myself, but perhaps a heads up for those making decisions about leadership positions.  Fortune recently published an article called What Makes an Ideal Crisis Manager? that cites Justin Menkes, author of the recently published book Better Under Pressure. He concludes that the people who are going to thrive in the future “are those who can use the pressure (of a crisis) to excel and who have translated very difficult circumstances into opportunity.” Hmmm….

Per the article, the three key characteristics of a good leader and crisis manager are:

* Realistic optimism. Exceptional leaders demonstrate an ability to understand the actual circumstances of a crisis and see a chance to excel.

* Finding order in chaos. This combines calmness, clarity of thought and a drive to fix the situation. It requires practice to stay clear-eyed and fearless when the world is tipping. It also requires zeal to solve a puzzle by engaging your staff.

* Subservience to purpose or corporate goals. The commitment to the higher calling or the greater good can make a huge difference. By encouraging a team to come together around some important goal, it cultivates tenacity and encourages collaboration.

Some execs will still avoid the topic of crisis preparedness, which makes a crisis communications plan all the more important. However, those managers who prove themselves to be exceptions to the rule by working well under pressure will survive – and thrive.

What other traits are there of a good crisis manager?


Titans Coach Munchak: Be a Pro

Growing up in Scranton, PA, surrounded by five sisters, Tennessee Titans Coach Mike Munchak learned early on the keys to survival on and off the football field.

Speaking to a crowded room of business professionals this week, the Hall of Famer says his career started as a paper boy earning upwards  of $30 a week. When his interest in sports conflicted with delivering afternoon papers, he paid his sisters a $1 a week to take over the route, a wise business investment at age 14. Never mind that the topic remains a point of contention at family reunions.

That kind of strategic thinking attributes to the Coach’s business philosophy today. A self-described optimist and rule follower, this NFL coach says his leadership starts with being true to himself, being real and authentic, and being a professional, which he defines as knowing what to do and then doing it.

Other leadership qualities he invokes:

1)   Start with a vision. In his case, he wants to win a Super Bowl. So does Titans owner Bud Adams - which leads to the next quality.

2)   You have to want it. If you can’t tell that Adams wants a new Super Bowl ring, then you’re not paying attention. The recent and overt courtship of Peyton Manning exemplifies someone with a vision, knowing what they want and doing everything they can to get it.

3)  Have a plan. Explain the plan. As Monday morning quarterbacks and draft experts, everybody thinks they know more than the actual decision makers, players on the team, sports agents and bean counters. It’s how it works. But Munchak has a rationale for his decisions; you may not agree with his explanation, but he does have one.

4)  Be involved in the plan. This means aligning expectations, consistency and accountability.

5)  Get out of the way. Let people be themselves and do their job.

Key takeaways: You have to be yourself. You have to want it. You have to be a pro.



Susan Hart

Susan Hart, APR, is an independent public relations consultant with 25+ years of experience. Beginning as a journalist, she represents clients in health care, financial, technology and real estate. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, she serves as Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee for her local PRSA Chapter.

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