Dec 08 2006

Be Prepared

Published by at 10:56 am under Comms,Music,Politics,Tech

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It’s difficult to pick a favourite Tom Lehrer song, but Be Prepared is definitely in my top five. It’s not just a handy maxim for Boy Scouts, either – it’s a fundamental principle which all those who call themselves communicators must espouse. Particularly in the often tricky and fast-moving arena of crisis comms, preparedness is everything.

Voice of America reports today that Hill & Knowlton’s own Norman Y Mineta is to be honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom later this month. Many congratulations, Norm. Other recipients announced today include the legendary B B King, and – yes I am getting to the point here – NYT columnist and Nixon-era speechwriter, William Safire.

In July of 1969, Safire produced what is still arguably one of the best case-studies of crisis preparedness, in the form of a memo to Bob Halderman entitled In Event of Moon Disaster. TSG reproduces the complete memo in all its grainy, typrewritten detail – it really is well worth reading.

The point to all this is that you can’t wait for a crisis to happen and then act in mitigation. If a worst-case scenario unfolds, the effective crisis practitioner will already have to hand the necessary statements, Q&As, flowcharts, call-out lists and protocols to deal with it. But if crisis strikes and those in leadership positions, whether corporate or political, are unprepared, situations can spiral out of control alarmingly quickly.

Speeches along the lines of that contained in Safire’s Moon Disaaster memo, dealing with the dreaded but very real possibility of human tragedy, are among the most difficult of drafting exercises. But they are also perhaps the most necessary. I’m sure Lehrer would, in his own way, agree.

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