Crisis communications expert to address dos, don'ts

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A Penn State alumnus who has authored two books about crisis communications and ranks as an expert in the field will present a lecture titled “What To Do (and Not) When Things Go Wrong” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the HUB-Robeson Center Auditorium on the University Park campus.

Steven Fink released his latest book, “Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message,” earlier this year. The book addresses headline-making crises in recent years -- the BP oil spill, Penn State, the recall of Toyota/Lexus vehicles -- and offers a way for readers to learn from those situations.

Fink will share his perspectives on those topics and more during the lecture, which includes a question-and-answer session, coordinated by the College of Communications. He will conduct a book signing after the event.

Fink, a 1971 Penn State graduate, serves as president of Lexicon Communications Corp., which specializes in crisis management, crisis communications and strategic public relations. The firm has represented some of the world’s most prestigious companies in virtually all industry groups in both proactive crisis management training and reactive crisis management response during the past quarter century.

Fink has personally consulted with various branches of government, foreign and domestic, on highly sensitive crisis issues, some involving matters of national security and international diplomacy. He has been a strategic adviser and consultant to some of America’s leading chief executives, senior management teams and corporate boards on a wide variety of critical and confidential crisis matters.

During the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis, the nation’s worst commercial nuclear power accident, Fink served on the crisis management team of then-Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh. With its calm handling of the crisis, that team was credited with having averted a panic among the population of south central Pennsylvania -- and the rest of the nation. Fink later served as an unpaid adviser to the then-Soviet Union during that country’s tragic nuclear crisis at Chernobyl.

Changes in communications methods -- and especially technology -- prompted Fink’s most recent book. He previously authored “Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable.” That book remains one of the most widely-read books about crisis management and has been used as a textbook in some of America’s leading business schools.

“At the time of the first book, I thought I said everything that needed to be said on the subject. But that was before the Internet explosion and the arrival of social media,” Fink said. “Also, more and more business and organizational leaders were embarrassing themselves and harming those they represented by not understanding how to communicate during a crisis. I decided it was time for a book devoted exclusively to crisis communications, with a special emphasis on effective use of social media before, during and after a crisis.”

Although the ultimate purpose of the book is to teach people the importance of crisis communications in business, Fink hopes readers will glean a few other messages as well.

“I think people and companies who more fully understand the power of effective communications during a reactive crisis ultimately become better companies when there is no crisis, which makes for stronger and better managed companies in the long run.  I want companies to understand why it is important to tell the truth in a crisis, and what the consequences are of failing to do so.”

Fink’s book goes beyond simply advising that people tell the truth during a crisis. He outlines why they should tell the truth, and contends that companies need to listen to their communications personnel as closely as they do their lawyers. In fact, Fink cites those situations as examples of what not to do in crisis communications. He hopes that by showing what not to do, readers will learn more quickly how to properly handle a crisis communications opportunity. 

Last Updated September 17, 2013