By Lindsay Teske
In any context or scenario, there is simply no method to predict when a crisis will arise. This is why knowledge of strategic crisis management is an integral aspect of the public relations toolbelt. DePaul’s PRSSA had the fortune of gaining further insight into PR crisis management from Steve Patterson, Vice President of strategic communications firm Res Publica.
Patterson was a part of the team that managed the aftermath of the Manchester bombing crisis at Ariana Grande’s concert. Patterson began recounting his experiences by sharing that a crisis was “anything that would affect a reputation.” As Res Publica’s client was Manchester Arena, the location where the incident took place, Patterson described the strategic measures he and his team took to uphold the stadium’s reputation by using a foundation of facts and ethics.
The first point Patterson addressed was the significance of clarifying that the incident took place outside the venue as opposed to within it. He noted that the distinction was of utmost importance, as it makes it apparent that the incident occurred on public property. Therefore, Manchester Arena did not experience a security breach. Highlighting this was notable, Patterson said, because it cemented that the external nature of the incident was not a reflection of Manchester Arena’s internal safety. It also emphasized that what took place was “a police issue” due to its public nature, thus allowing the public to direct any and all questions and concerns to the appropriate party. Additionally, this distinction mattered was because it highlights that the client had not committed any wrongdoing. “Once the ‘bad guy’ narrative is set, it’s hard to steer the ship the other way,” Patterson said.
He also detailed that crises often cause one to evaluate the situation at hand in an all-encompassing manner, which led to Res Publica working to ensure that any charges made at Manchester Arena by the deceased victims did not go through. They also ensured that those impacted by the tragedy - particularly the families of the deceased - were removed from the venue’s mailing list. These examples illustrate that when dealing with a crisis, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail matter.
Patterson shared another situation in which he and his team used facts as a basis to defend a client in wake of a crisis situation. Lollapalooza, one of Chicago’s most celebrated cultural events, has long come under fire for leaving Grant Park cluttered and congested with traffic. He shared that, upon a push for the city to cancel the festival’s contract, Res Publica gathered statistics to prove that Lollapalooza had nearly a $100 million impact on the city of Chicago.
To conclude the meeting, Patterson kindly shared helpful hints for the job application process. These included the importance of words, sending “cold call” emails, nurturing your network, casting a broad net, and not letting a perceived lack of experience hold you back.
The lesson of the day?
“You can’t predict a crisis, but you can prepare and you can anticipate.”