The Boyd Company Marketing Communications » Crisis Communications

Crisis Communications

Koreagate, a Defining Moment for Congress
At the end of my first week as press secretary to a California congressman, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times saying my new boss would be named in a story about 30 congressmen receiving donations from a foreign lobbyist, Tongsun Park. The next three years were dominated by ethics charges, congressional hearings, and unrelenting national media coverage. In the end, the congressman survived a reprimand on the House floor, was reelected by a 70 percent vote thanks to strong community support, and kept all of his powerful committee chairmanships.

Lesson learned: Rally support among your closest allies, in this case the congressman’s Hispanic community and the California delegation, led by current CIA Director Leon Panetta.

The Hot Zone
In one of the most dramatic instances of being prepared for a crisis, I was part of the PR team that wrote a crisis communications plan for Hazleton Laboratories that was pre-rehearsed. So when their labs were infected with a new strain of the Ebola virus found in monkeys imported from the Philippines, they were prepared. Along with the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Army, Hazleton minimized press coverage to avoid widespread panic about an unknown virus. Although the Washington Post ran a short item, the full story didn’t come out until the bestseller “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston was published. Stephen King called it “One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read.”

Lesson learned: This was a case of repressing coverage until the full details of scientific research and the contagious nature of this virus could be revealed. It was finally named Ebola Reston Virus after the Virginia city where it first was discovered.

Aruba and Drug Money Laundering
I worked closely with Aruba’s lobbying firm to put together a global conference in Aruba highlighting its leadership in preventing Caribbean nations being used as drug-money-laundering waystations. Prime ministers and justice ministers from 26 Caribbean nations attended, along with a flock of high-level government officials from the United States. Global media coverage was strong and catered to with two press conferences a day, video news releases, and a fully equipped international pressroom. When promoting a controversial event like this, access to host officials was important but protection was provided for ministers from drug-exporting countries.

Lesson learned: Taking a firm stand on a controversial issue makes for good politics, and Aruba established its independence within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Large Medical Negligent Settlement
Kudos go to a Seattle personal injury firm, Law Office of Ron Perey, for having the foresight to anticipate a medical negligent case would get major publicity and prepared for three months to make that happen. Several preliminary articles focusing on the victim and her family were published in the Seattle Post- Intelligencer, creating an upswell of interest in the tragic nature of the case. On the day of the record-breaking $8.5 million settlement, a major media rollout resulted in numerous interviews with the family and Perey, including his appearance live on Northwest Cable News and coverage on three other TV network affiliates. Nearly every newspaper in the state covered the story, generating 2.4 million media impressions of people who read or viewed the story.

Lesson learned: Good coverage requires diligent preparation.