May Program Recap
Crisis Communication with Craig Fugate
Moderated by FPRA President Alyson Lundell, APR, CPRC
Thursday, May 21, 2020 | 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Be transparent and factual. Tell people what you know, and tell people what you don’t know. Always be honest and get back with them.
- During times of disaster, the public needs information. Communicators should anticipate that need and prepare a response to it.
- When the solution is the message, it’s not often a newsworthy crisis.
- Floridians need to prepare for hurricane season and have more supplies for COVID-19 as well.
- The primary focus during hurricane season and COVID-19 will always be on loss of life. The need for social distancing will be important, but it will be secondary to loss of life.
- Do your work well and your story will be told. Fugate says, “if you want to make good news, do a good job.”
On Thursday, May 21, members of the FPRA Capital Chapter had the opportunity to hear crisis insight from former FEMA director Craig Fugate.
As a distinguished leader in the crisis communication industry, Fugate provided his insight on managing a number of crises – including worldwide pandemics and the Florida Hurricane Season, to a worldwide pandemic during Hurricane Season.
Fugate’s main message in handling a crisis is to rely on honesty. Being transparent and factual are the backbone of crisis management. He shared that in his experience, communicators are often acting on the defensive, he has advised that rather than defending the past, talk about how you will change in the future and let your actions do the talking. “If you want to make good news, do a good job,” Fugate says.
Fugate also provided insight into complicated relationships in the communications industry — reporters and publicists. “Maintaining an “us vs. them” mentality doesn’t work,” he says. In many cases even people you may perceive as your adversaries will be able to understand your perspective if you sit down and have a conversation with them. Take time to have the conversation, you will be surprised by the benefits.
The timelines of this meeting couldn’t have been better, as we all are feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and are preparing for the approaching Hurricane Season.
“We have been so focused on COVID-19 that many hoped that hurricane season would be suppressed. It’s impossible to say what will happen,” Fugate explained. In any crisis, we all want certainty, but when things change continuously, it is hard to have clear communication; and when there are a lot of different people communicating, it is difficult to have one coherent message. It is dangerous if different voices and groups are sharing contradicting information, but when done right, you can have many voices, one message. Fugate says that to keep the message clear, head communicators can pass the mic to subject matter experts to share important details. “There is nothing more credible than subject matter experts, let them talk. Defer to experts when needed, utilize the people who have the information to tell that story,” advised Fugate.
Fugate says that during times of disaster, the public needs information. Communicators should anticipate that and prepare a response to it. In a disaster, things are uncertain and bound to go wrong; if and when that happens, communicators should acknowledge it, explain what will be done about it and do it. When the solution is the message, it’s not often a newsworthy crisis.
Fugate also shared that community response to hurricanes is important. “This is a great time to bring people in who have lost their jobs or are not working to help with the hurricane,” he explained. He reminded us to buy and hire local in response to the hurricane. This will help local communities while dealing with disaster and minimize the intake of people from other areas to prevent outside COVID-19 exposure.
He also gave helpful reminders to keep survival on the top of our minds. “We don’t want people to think COVID-19 should prevent them from evacuating flood zones and life-threatening scenarios or people who don’t see the risk with COVID-19 and won’t take those precautions,” says Fugate. “The primary focus will always be on loss of life. The need for social distancing will be important, but it will be secondary to loss of life.”
Finally, Fugate answered questions from the group, from giving advice to Public Information Officers to insights on The Waffle House Index, he shared his expertise on the best practices in crisis communication and ways to find humor in these often difficult times.
His message came in the perfect time for Florida communicators, as we tackle the pandemic and a hurricane season on the horizon. Thank you, Craig Fugate, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your wealth of knowledge with the FPRA Capital Chapter!
– Chloe S. Barr, Recent FSU Graduate and 2019-2020 FPRA Student Capital Chapter Professional Liaison (Member since 2018)