Erika Engle

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

in a crisis is about
more than spinning

Your parents were right. Telling the truth right off the bat doesn't mean avoiding punishment, but lying makes the consequences worse.

Crisis communications expert Joseph Trahan brings that childhood lesson to CEOs, military brass and tomorrow, to the Hawaii Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Trahan is a 24-year PR veteran, media relations expert with the U.S. Department of Defense and president of Louisiana-based Trahan & Associates.

Good crisis communications start with a plan, "a living, breathing document that's being constantly changed and improved," he said. Organizations must be ready for any possibility and brainstorm scenarios "to the extremes."

"Have one and only one spokesperson in a crisis. Make doggone sure that person is trained, articulate, and part of the decision-making process." Trahan recalled New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's constant presence Sept. 11 and thereafter.

"Always go ugly early in a crisis."


"Get the bad news right out of the way. The only two things that get better with age are women and wine," he said.

Only deal in facts, never speculate, and there's nothing wrong with saying "I have no idea, I'll have to get back to you," said Trahan. He's a firm believer in the KISS rule -- "Keep it Simple, Stupid." But the second "S" could also stand for "Sugar Pie" or "Sweetheart," he chuckled. Officials must be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the crisis passes.

Registration for "What You Should Do When the Stuff Hits the Gumbo," begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Waikiki. The cost for nonmembers is $75. For more information, call Lou Torraca at 254-3286.

His noon luncheon address, "Making the Top Dog Bark Right," is $35 for nonmembers.

"Corporate leaders are afraid to come forward and say, 'we made a mistake and this is how we are going to fix it,'" Trahan said.

"You don't know who's got the ear of the CEO," Trahan said, but it is often attorneys concerned about liability and shareholder return.

"That all has to be weighed," he said, noting there is the court of public opinion and the court of law.

Being honest from the beginning may minimize any damage, he said. "If something terrible happens, you're going to get sued anyway."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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