Crisis communications is something that every public relations professional will come up against in his or her career. On Wednesday, February 4, Executive Director of Media Relations at Kent State University Eric Mansfield shared his insight on a few of the crisis situations at KSU in the past year.
Mansfield, who has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist, said journalists are used to be near crisis situations while PR professionals are not. He stressed the importance of a good crisis plan.
The first event Mansfield discussed was April 2, 2014, when a gun was fired on campus near Bowman Hall around 8:30 p.m. He said his personal cell phone voicemail box was flooded in minutes. He had to rush to campus to organize a press conference with the President Lester Lefton. The next day was also a busy one because he was still talking with the media as well as monitoring responses on social media. Mansfield listed his lessons learned from this crisis situation:
The next crisis situation Mansfield discussed was September 15, 2014, when the news broke that Urban Outfitters sold a Kent State sweatshirt with what appeared to be a blood spatter pattern. Mansfield heard the news while getting ready for work. He immediately had to draft a response to the situation from Kent State. He talked about the importance of a nine-second sound byte in the release for the media to use. He also said it is important to turn the situation into a positive. He did this by inviting the leaders of Urban Outfitters and those who had bought the product to visit the May 4 Visitor Center. This brought a lot of coverage to the center over the next few days.
The final situation Mansfield talked about was October 15, 2014, when the second healthcare worker, a Kent State University alumna who had recently visited Cleveland, was diagnosed with Ebola. Mansfield said he was able to use all the lessons he learned from the previous situations to handle this one. He set up a phone line for the media to call so he would not be receiving calls on his personal cell. He also set up a media briefing area. He turned to Twitter to dispute false claims and calm down the public. He also wrote talking points for university employees.
Mansfield’s final takeaways for crisis communications were that in a crisis, a public relations professional must be timely, accurate, helpful, clear and prepared.