Crisis communications showdown: a Valentine’s Day challenge

A child’s hand has been caught in one of your company’s rehabilitative toys and the parents have promised to take the story public to warn other parents of the dangers of the company’s products. You are the toy company’s public relations director and the parents are going live on Good Morning America tomorrow to talk about the damage the toy has done to their family.

How do you manage this stakeholder relationship? This and four other crisis scenarios were the challenges for UT PRSSA members on the Feb. 14 crisis communications meeting. Members were divided into love-themed team names and given 15 minutes to come up with a public relations plan to respond to different crisis scenarios.

Events Coordinator Regina Flanigan was the officer in charge of planning the meeting, including creating the scenarios, finding a judge and timing the strategizing and response periods the teams would have.

Events Coordinator Regina Flanigan doling out crisis situations to UT PRSSA members. Photo: Daviz Pham.

Providing members the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and get their creativity flowing was important to Regina, who knows a speaker meeting may not always be the best way to teach about every discipline of public relations.

“I wanted to create something where we could get members involved and give them feedback,” Flanigan said. “I wanted to do something that allowed them to practice their skills in a potential job setting rather than a “how to get a job” setting.”

Members working quickly to come up with a strategic response to their communications challenge. Photo: Daviz Pham

Judge Kellyn Wieland, teaching assistant to UT PRSSA advisor Dave Junker, listened to and judged teams based on their strategies, creative responses and overall well-roundedness of their plans. She chose Team Loverboy as the winners for having the most comprehensive and innovative response to their crisis, which asked how to respond to parody videos that have gone viral and make fun of a House of Representatives candidate. Their plan of getting the candidate on the political shows like Jon Stewart and Anderson 360 to address the videos directly won them free admission to the UT PRSSA Longhorn Networking event in March.

Crisis communications showdown winners Team Loverboy. Photo: Daviz Pham

Responding to crisis situations is a topic we all read about in our foundation and upper division public relations courses, but being able to practice them hands-on in a timed and somewhat stressful situation provided a more realistic lesson for PRSSA members.

“I’m just really proud of our members for getting into responding to the scenarios as much as I did in writing them,” Flanigan said. “They surprised me with their creativity and how much they thought about their crises in the short amount of time they were given.”

UT PRSSA members, officers and judge Kellyn Wieland. Photo: Daviz Pham