Crisis management in the midst of a crisis

by

By Linda Alexander

By now, we all
have seen the disturbing footage of a recent crime in the city in which a small
woman is mauled by a hulk of man in front of glass doors, as security cameras record
the beating. Concurrently, we witness three men inside the building, two of
whom appear as burly as the perpetrator, and their only response is to close
the doors.

Not only
have we collectively seen yet another hate crime, this time against an Asian woman
who is also a senior citizen, we have watched the witnesses in real time do
absolutely nothing to help the victim.

Within hours, we learned at least two of the men were employees of 360 West 43rd Street, the luxury property on whose front sidewalk the woman was beaten. During multiple broadcasts that evening, there was a statement from the landlord’s communications team denouncing hate, violence, and racism. A similar message was subsequently broadcast by the workers’ union.

Linda Alexander

The
statement also added the two employees had been suspended. Viewers were
stunned: despite the inhumane inaction of the three men caught on camera, two still
have their jobs! The third may be a vendor who still has a client. It was an
implausible situation exacerbated by terrible optics and a delayed response.

Communications
consultants experienced in protecting clients in crises know to act swiftly and
definitively with an immediate strategy, followed by well thought-out
positioning.

It may be
assumed that the building owner/manager shared the footage with the NYPD in the
spirit of helping solve the crime. But what is not clear is why, after viewing
it themselves, they did not take a more defined course of action that would disassociate
their firm from the inaction of the three men inside the door. Simply announcing
the suspension of the staff was not enough.

Perhaps management
was reluctant to make a declarative statement about the onlookers because they
are members of a powerful union. But do we really believe SEIU 32B/J would go
on the record to try and justify a lack of response that was unambiguously caught
on camera? These men could have chased the fiend away or distracted him by
yelling. Or as the New York Post blasted on the cover a couple days later, “They
Didn’t Even Call 911!”

In crisis
situations, messaging is critical. We must be strategic in protecting our
clients in these unprecedented times of controversy, insecurity, hyper-sensitivity,
and economic turmoil. The real estate industry in New York sits in the
crosshairs of rapidly rising crime, pandemic-based revenue losses, and for the
past few years, as a target of state and city politicians that are
anti-development, anti-landlord, and anti-broker.

For those of
us responsible for garnering media coverage for a client base focused on all
things real estate, we need to provide sound advice that is both empathetic and
tactical when addressing potentially compromising incidents in these challenging
times.

In highly
charged circumstances, such as the beating we witnessed last week, a
two-pronged approach must be swiftly implemented. The messaging should be
communicated through traditional channels, such as broadcast, print and digital
media, as well as on social media platforms.

Twitter is
the most obvious choice for relaying swift, pointed messages. But if a company
does not have a presence on that platform, Facebook and Instagram can be
equally strong.  We must be mindful that social
media messaging requires a carefully delivered, deft approach because followers
tend to respond quickly, emotionally and, for the most part, anonymously!

The language
should not project emphatic negativity or blame.  Rather, it has to convey a solution-driven
message that encompasses situational sensitivities and strong moral standing.

Facebook is
an excellent medium for storytelling, as well as communicating positive action.
But regarding the response to the West 43rd Street incident, the
building’s owner/manager, which happens to be one of the city’s premier real
estate firms, unfortunately delivered canned statements that identified as cliché.
As a result, the Instagram posts produced the wrong responses, which were overwhelmingly
angry and derisive.

Had they
conveyed direct action, there would have been a more positive response. By admitting
alarm, i.e., empathy, at how these particular staff members were delinquent in
their duties as citizens, the owners would have not been as exposed to the type
of scrutiny they are currently experiencing. It was an unnecessary blemish on
the reputation of a company with a long history of strong development, management,
ownership, and community interaction.

As
communications professionals in precarious times, it is incumbent on us to be
candid with our clients and provide clear and sensible advice they may not want
to hear or agree with. But our experience tells us if we can help them move
past a crisis with good decisions and clear-cut messaging, we can help them maintain
their well-earned reputations for the future so that the next wave of stories accentuate
positive contributions.

Linda Alexander is president of Alexander Marketing, a full-service public relations firm specializing in real estate and related markets 

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