Beyond Zika: 3 crisis PR tips

By: Brian Pittman
Published: Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016

This summer we could see a spike in Zika—reminding organizations to upgrade their crisis plans, whether or not they’re in health care. Here are tactics for doing just that.

 By Brian Pittman


Zika struck shortly after the world thought it had laid Ebola to rest. Zika still has many countries on alert.


These outbreaks are a wake-up call to upgrade your crisis plan before the next disaster strikes. Here are three quick tips for doing so:


  1. Emulate Mountain View—build trust via social media. Use social media to develop trust with your stakeholders before a crisis occurs. Silicon Valley’s Mountain View Police Department does this especially well.

“The department uses social media every day to make deposits into its ‘bank of community trust,’” says Melissa Agnes, partner at crisis consultancy Agnes + Day and editor of the Crisis Intelligence Bog. “They realize social media is a constant medium of communication—it’s not just something they turn to during a crisis.”

The department, for example, will tweet out where its officers are handing out traffic tickets. It does this because giving tickets isn’t its goal—safety is.

“As a result, the community knows they can trust the police department when a real crisis occurs,” says Agnes, who adds that trust built on social media goes both ways.

“The department’s social media manager regularly prints out tweets expressing gratitude for its officers’ efforts,” she explains. “They’re posted on the bulletin board—and that goes a long way to fostering mutual appreciation and trust.”


Register for PR Daily’s March 31 PR University webinar “Zika and Ebola Crisis Lessons: New Crisis Planning Strategies, Tools and Templates” with Emory University to upgrade your crisis plans today.


  1. Prepare now—educate, educate, educate. With the summer months rapidly approaching, there is increased fear and anxiety regarding how the Zika virus is contracted and spread.

Even if you’re not with a health care organization, it’s important to share credible information resources––like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your local public health department––with employees now,” says Nancy Seideman, associate vice president of media relations at Emory University, which was widely praised for its handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

In addition to health information, travel advisories produced by the U.S. State Department also represent an official authoritative source. “When dealing with public health issues, organizations should not attempt to reinvent the wheel or––more important––take responsibility for providing information outside of their area of expertise,” says Seideman.

How can you best educate your employees?

“Tap all communication vehicles,” Seideman says. “Share these resources via internal email, your Intranet, social media that points to your official communications, Web postings and during in-person staff meetings.”

For example, Seideman’s team distributed this announcement at the onset of Zika concerns in the U.S.:


  1. Set up crisis drills now. Seideman says gauging your colleagues’ capabilities and preparedness for a crisis—through periodic drills and table-top exercises—is crucial.

Here’s how: “Develop a scenario in conjunction with your local emergency preparedness and police departments. It can be a natural disaster such as a tornado, a hostage-taking in the workplace or a chemical spill fro a laboratory or nearby railroad line,” she says.

Then pull together representatives for your company’s departments and units that would respond in such an emergency. Draft a plan of action based on how your organization should respond.

“Of course, communications would be critical,” Seideman says. “This starts with immediate alerts via your organization’s emergency communications system—texts, email and Web—reinforced with social media postings and briefings.”


Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Melissa Agnes and Nancy Siedeman will share more crisis planning and response tips in the March 31 PR University webinar, “Zika and Ebola Crisis Lessons: New Crisis Planning Strategies, Tools and Templates

Beyond Zika: 3 crisis PR tips

By: Brian Pittman
Published: Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016