Off the Shelf
An Ounce of Prevention by Allan Bonner
By Harvey Schachter
An Ounce of Prevention: Navigating Your Way Through Damage Control and Crisis Response by Allan Bonner; 2010, 322 pages
By Harvey Schachter
When a crisis occurs, it’s too late to begin crisis communications planning.
“Your organization must not only do the right thing but be seen to be doing the right thing,” Toronto-based crisis management consultant Allan Bonner says. “Poor communication often makes people think of the worst, and people who think the worst of you can make your crisis more costly.”
In a crisis, you want to help frame perceptions of the situation. He stresses there is no guarantee that communicating about risk will calm people. Indeed, it might do the opposite, inclining them to worry more. But given today’s world, he argues the risk information is likely to get out anyways, so you want to grab at least modest control of the agenda.
In addition to framing, Bonner alerts us to “signals,” a type of framing. You will have more trouble if your event appears to be a signal that a technology or industry isn’t being well managed or you have underestimated the risk.
Bonner recommends that your communications be based on short, positive, memorable statements, which he calls SOCKOs — an acronym for “strategic overriding communications knowledge objectives.” The messages must be strategic in intent, and focused on the most important — overriding — information at hand.
And yes, you can write SOCKOs ahead of time and keep them in your crisis plan (and hope they never need to be used). An Ounce of Prevention will help you in all aspects of crisis management. With an accompanying DVD, it takes you step- by-step through crisis planning and what to do if one should strike. It’s not only big picture, but also focuses on details, down to how to set up the desk in your public affairs room and what type of microphone to use in news conferences.
*A version of this review was originally published by the Globe and Mail.