The Terminator: 6 Lessons in Crisis Communications

Flipping channels yesterday I came across this scene from The Terminator. As I watched Kyle Reese explain the apocalyptic future facing the human race I wondered, “Why didn’t his training in the future include how to properly communicate with humans in 1984 to gain their trust and assist him in his mission?” Sadly PR analysis even bleeds into my channel surfing.

This scene is an important reminder that communications professionals must convey information clearly by appropriately packaging messages for targeted audiences. This can be easily done when you have days to work on a press release or months leading up to a big announcement. But what happens when the unexpected takes you and your staff by surprise? How do you react when you feel threatened?

When a crisis occurs you have to account for several key factors to ensure that your message is heard and understood. Crises shorten the timeline for rolling out strategies as well as measuring and adjusting audience reaction.

So how do you overcome these hurdles when your world is falling apart? Pretty much do the opposite of Sarah Connor’s protector.

Calm Down
You can’t stay calm if you do not understand the circumstances. Evaluate the situation as quickly and thoroughly as you can. The more information you possess the better you can put the crisis in perspective. You probably will not gain serenity by staring at a photo of your boss’s mother (watch the movie again, you’ll get it).

Keep That Gun Holstered
Don’t respond to a crisis with knee jerk reactions. This is not a time to shot from the hip. You know your organization’s weak points and the areas most likely to provoke negative emotions with the public. You need plans for dealing with crises in each of these areas.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Run through your crisis plans regularly to keep your team prepared for the worst. The more you practice the better your team can respond calmly to any disruption.
Terminator Tip: If you find yourself in a police station yelling at officers, you need more practice.

Pinpoint Your Spokesperson
Kyle Reese seems to become emotional easily but then again he is charged with stopping a killing machine while rescuing a major player in the fight for humanity’s future. You do not have such an excuse so you better pick someone who works well under pressure, can stay on message, and can respond calmly (notice the theme here) to antagonizing questions.

Speak the Language
It’s not about getting the message out. It’s about ensuring that your audience understands your message. You need to be able to easily switch between the languages best understood internally and externally. Your inside baseball lingo in the boardroom will not be appropriate for every media outlet. Know your audiences, gauge their reactions to the news, and shape your messaging appropriately.

Rescue Yourself from Future Crises
Learn from your experience and adjust your plans accordingly. Each crisis will bring new challenges and you will become more adept at handling them if you are open to learning from each experience.

What crisis tips from this classic film would you like to share?

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3 thoughts on “The Terminator: 6 Lessons in Crisis Communications

  1. Pingback: 10 Ways to Stay Calm in a Crisis « BrianAdamsPR

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