5 crisis communications lessons from horror movies

When a real-life crisis occurs, let the lessons those scary movies taught you guide your path to redemption.

We’ve all been there: Anxiously squeezing the cheap, plastic armrest in a dark, crowded theater. “Jaws” clenched. Eyes glued to the screen. Hearts racing. Palms sweaty. Knees weak.

With each scream of “Don’t go in there!” or “You’re Next!” we can’t help but be grateful we aren’t trapped in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Just like on-screen horror, companies have terror lurking around every corner. “The Descent” is quick when disaster strikes and companies must act fast to (hopefully) “Stay Alive.”

In true “Halloween” spirit, here are five horror movie principles that “Ring” true in crises.

1: Even the slowest killer will catch up

What doesn’t kill your employees makes your company stronger, right? Wrong.

Dancing around a few ethical boundaries here and there, or twisting the law will eventually catch up to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s just “Child’s Play” or something far more “Sinister.” Any skeletons in your company’s closet will come back to haunt you, be it hours, weeks, years, or “28 Days Later.”

Just look at Volkswagen. Outfitting vehicles with devices to cheat emissions tests seemed like a good idea at the time, and business continued as usual until the deceit was revealed. Now the company faces a huge blow to its image, as well as its bank account.

2: Silence is never a good thing

In a movie, dead silence is almost always an indicator that some form of “Paranormal Activity” will begin. Silence does not bode well in a crisis, either.

A company’s silence insinuates the worst and gives critics a chance to control the media messaging.

Most experts say that the first 48 hours of a crisis are crucial in determining whether the company will survive. There will be “High Tension,” but a communication plan must be executed within 24-48 hours of the crisis onset. Company officials should communicate with key publics what happened and what the company is doing to solve the problem.

Putting company officials on “Quarantine” is the worst possible option.

Also, statements like, “No comment” only assume guilt and damage future efforts to remedy the crisis.

3: Wearing a mask makes you look suspicious

Unless you’re “Trick ‘r Treat”ing, wearing a mask instantly marks you as a suspect. When addressing a crisis, take off the mask and be transparent and sincere.

FedEx handled its box-throwing incident well by issuing a video apology from a vice president at the company. Simple? Yes. Effective? Yes.

We’re all human, and we’re bound to make a “Wrong Turn” every now and then. Even if the situation is bad–Malaysia airlines bad— it’s best to own up and work out a solution rather than get caught in a web of finger pointing and lies.

4. Children and the elderly are protected classes

Children and elderly typically don’t die in movies unless they’re the antagonists (“Ils,” “Children of the Corn,” or “The Omen,” anyone?). If they do die, there is a greater sense of loss than if it was some drunk college kid or middle-aged office worker.

In a crisis, children and elderly are what Peter Sandman calls “outrage factors.” The theory states that there is more outrage if a crisis affects or includes one of these “factors.” The company will have to work “From Dusk ’til Dawn” to account for this setback if one of these factors is involved in a crisis.

5: Prepare for a sequel or remake

Even if your company survives the crisis, the momentary relief likely is not your “Final Destination.” The “Evil Dead” are always looking to rise again, and your company needs to constantly prepare for the next crisis.

A company needs a crisis communications plan ready, and a designated war room (doesn’t matter if it’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” it just needs all of the essentials) to act fast when crisis strikes again.

Alek Irvin is an intern with Highwire Public Relations in California, and is a graduate of Chico State. A version of this article originally appeared on Alek’s blog. ‪

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