An Event Crisis Happened. Everyone Is Okay. But Now What?

Five key steps to take when your event crisis becomes public knowledge. Hint: You will likely have very little time to react.
By Astrid Zeppenfeld 

In our last issue, we covered how companies can prepare themselves for an event and thus – hopefully – avoid a crisis at one of their events. But what if you did everything right and a crisis could not be averted in time? Is your event ruined if a tornado hits? Possibly. It would be difficult to continue an opening ceremony after the roof has been blown off. And we all know that when reporters show up right after the tornado has moved on, we cannot make believe that we meant to “open up the roof during the opening ceremony for authenticity purposes”.

So should we have a few key phrases to say when the reporters arrive? If so, what are those phrases? In order to find out how we can best prepare for the descendance of the media that is surely going to happen after any kind of crisis, I went straight to one of our sources, who spoke at our Spring Expo in St. Louis: Chris Kuban, CEO of Chemistry Multimedia, LLC.

INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS KUBAN

When I asked Chris about what he would hold to be the five most important steps one can take to prepare for a crisis, he mentioned that – first and foremost – one must understand the details of the crisis. “Okaaaayyyyy…”, I said, “but what does that mean? How can you prepare for that? You can’t know in advance what kind of crisis it may be. And, especially with social media now, word will get out so fast that it won’t really give you time to work through and understand the details of the crisis, will it?”

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE DETAILS OF THE CRISIS

Boy, was I way too far ahead there; naturally, one cannot predict any crisis accurately and comprehend what happened, deal with the emergencies, and deal with the media all alone five minutes after the crisis unfolded.

Understanding the details of the crisis is a collaboration between different people and collection of information. For this, you can be prepared. Before the start of any event, make sure you have your “emergency team” assembled, just in case. This means knowing exactly who is in charge of what, should a crisis occur. Make sure everyone on your staff knows all of the following:

  • Who is the spokesperson for the media?
  • Who is the person on the ground and the spokesperson for assembled guests and staff?
  • Who makes the logistical decisions?
  • Who is in charge of the safety of your guests and staff?

As Chris put it, “In essence, do you know the right people to go to?”

  1. HOW TO CONTAIN THE CRISIS

This one should be a no-brainer and hopefully, you have someone on your team assigned to making sure that the crisis will not be on-going. Meaning, you should have someone who is interacting with the community and calling the authorities for help in containing the crisis.

  1. DEVELOPING YOUR CORE MESSAGE

What is the message you are going to send out? Both externally to the community and internally to your employees, to make sure that everyone is on the same page in understanding what the crisis is and how it is going to be dealt with? The best plan here is to be proactive and transparent. During or immediately after an event crisis, it cannot be easy to say anything at all when a reporter comes over to stick a microphone in front of you. Harder yet, to say something that will work in your company’s favor.

I imagine the core message should be transparent enough to acknowledge the problem and assume accountability for it. If you are dealing with an unforeseen natural disaster, your accountability is obviously minimal. However, if an active shooter walked into your event because you didn’t hire any security personnel, assuming responsibility could be key to your company ever recovering from this crisis.

  1. PREPPING FOR CONSEQUENCES IN THE RESPONSE

As with so many things in life, this can get a lot worse before it gets better. Here, one of the prime examples which might help illustrate what Chris Kuban means by this, is the our very own West Lake Landfill in Missouri. Which, by the way, is now so (in)famous that, in 2017, even the German and Austrian mainstream press have started reporting on the underground smoldering fire at the landfill and its toxic waste. And, while Republic Services, the company that currently owns and operates the landfill, has had plenty of opportunity to try and positively influence the media on this, the media does not seem satisfied. With good reason. This underground smoldering fire is an on-going crisis with which the Environmental Protection Agency has been tasked, due to the toxic waste present. Republic Services, as a corporation, is both trying to protect their assets as well as their reputation.

When Republic Services, who took over the landfill in 2008 after its merger with Allied Waste Services, first discovered the “subsurface smoldering event”, the company immediately reported it. Transparency. There is a wee bit of a tiny problem at one of our properties. Assumption of responsibility. We will immediately figure out how to deal with this and mitigate any risk to the general population.

The EPA got involved, assessed the true extent of the problem and, after much back and forth negotiating, just announced a plan on how the agency will deal with the toxic waste cleanup. All the while, Republic Services has tried hard to stay out of the limelight and protect itself. The new EPA cleanup plan estimates the cost to be roughly $400 million, with Republic Services expected to pay for this, next to two other accountable parties. So far, West Lake has cost the company in excess of $227 million, so now might be a good time for Republic Services to come up with another strategy around mitigation.

  1. YOUR STRATEGY AROUND MITIGATION

The message here is simple and straight-forward: Live up to your apologies and follow through on your promises. You can maybe mitigate the risk of a crisis at one of your company’s events. You can prepare for a variety of disruptions at your event. You can have everyone and everything in place on how to deal with your guests, your staff, and the media, should anything occur.

The real work, however, is probably the cleanup. The time when the crisis is over and you’ve successfully communicated your message and then shut down any comment options on your social media sites. Now you follow through and make sure that everyone is safe and all damage is repaired.

And then you announce your success in dealing with the crisis!

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.