Lessons in Crisis Communications from David Hahn, former CEO of BC Ferries by Guest Blogger Lisa Dalla Vecchia
I recently attended CPRS Vancouver’s Speaker Series Breakfast Event “Navigating through rough waters: How to communicate when your organization faces the ultimate communications challenge”. For someone in communications and PR, this was a must-attend event. David Hahn, former CEO of BC Ferries, shared how he addressed many communications challenges, from the sinking of the Queen of the North to facing off with then radio host, now Premier Christy Clark, over the issue of free ferry rides for employees and their families. David Hahn never seemed to me like someone who shied away from controversy, and after hearing him speak, I have to admit, I developed a newfound respect for a man who was able to develop a healthy relationship with the media, successfully address problems head on, and basically say what needed saying.
Lesson 1: Credibility is easy to lose and hard to recover. Establish credibility through honesty, straightforwardness, consistency, and accessibility.
Lesson 2: How you behave as an organization during times of crisis defines who you are. A crisis is an excellent time to evaluate the people around you. Who demonstrates strength? Who buckles under pressure?
Lesson 3: It is critical how you behave from the outset of a crisis. Own the story, be completely accessible, and communicate honestly and frequently with all stakeholders. For David Hahn, during the Queen of the North crisis, this meant frequent and qualified messages to employees, media, and the public. Qualified in this situation meant saying “Based on what we know right now…”
Lesson 4: Communication is key. As the President and CEO, David Hahn was the face of BC Ferries. By leading the response and the messaging, he prevented or at least minimized third party commentary.
Lesson 5: Clearly and quickly communicate to all concerned. Take control and assume responsibility. Verify all facts. Again, qualify your response. Access to the media—yes; harassment by the media—no.
Lesson 6: Show you care. Always think of the people involved.
Lastly, you can never plan enough, nor can you ever prepare enough for a crisis. Make sure all involved know their roles.
David Hahn’s presentation is now available for viewing on the CPRS Vancouver website. Make sure to check out CPRS Vancouver at http://cprsvancouver.com/. They host a number of exceptional professional development and networking events throughout the year.