Many of my fellow PR bloggers (Ike, Andrea and Tech PR Gems) have been doing a good job following Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting incident at a Texas ranch last weekend.
However, one area that hasn’t been really hit upon is this:
Cheney treated the incident like a hot news item that could be handled as an exclusive to a trusted paper rather than a crisis situation that needed wide distribution.
Five Things Cheney Should Have Done:
1. Enact Plan: Put the crisis plan in motion (make sure there is one), this way everyone who needs to know will be notified in a very short time, usually within 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Get the Facts: Have someone on your team assigned to getting the facts, talking to the doctors, talking to witnesses and talking to law enforcement or officials, if they are involved.
3. Release Statement: Craft an initial statement and get it out the door, usually to the wire and press services first (This should have gone out the night of the shooting). Make sure the statement expresses remorse for the victim and gives some action items (ie., Cheney is with Wittington in the hospital monitoring his condition and talking with his family, Cheney’s physicians are consulting with the emergency doctors to ensure Wittington gets the best care possible)
4. Open Media Center: Set up a media center, such as an online pressroom, with updated information and access to spokespeople.
5. Get Out Front: Get the spokesperson, or most appropriate person (in this case probably Cheney) out in front of the cameras quickly, within a few hours of the crisis (Sunday morning in this case would have been tolerable, but Wednesday was deplorable)
Cheney’s statement, late as it was, scored points on responsibility, but his decision to let the ranch owner Katharine Armstrong make the accident public by calling the Corpus Christi Caller-Times for an exclusive was damaging:
“I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the website, which is the way it went out and I thought that was the right call,” Cheney said.
You can understand the sentiment, but it just doesn’t make sense from the Crisis Communication standpoint. The repercussions are that the story now has “legs.” A horrible accident, which it seems this is, now has become a story about the White House and its culture.