Sidebar: PR to the Rescue

Book excerpt: A case study of PR for IT

One of the primary central cluster locations in the office network of a large, IT-dependent maintenance services company experienced a catastrophic fire. Luckily, the fire occurred at night, and none of the more than 800 employees who worked at the site was injured or killed.

The location housed critical servers and telecommunications equipment, and, on a regular basis, local customers interacted electronically with these servers to obtain critical information. As soon as the site IT manager was paged and notified about the fire, he immediately initiated the fully tested disaster recovery plan.

Both the technical and human relations portions of the plan were executed flawlessly. Because redundancy had been designed into the applications, network and infrastructure, including a physical backup site for employees, everything was returned to operational status within 36 hours.

However, because of the severe nature of the damage and the outage that occurred, the disaster recovery plan included a "crisis PR" component. Customers, as well as employees, needed to be reassured that the company's IT organization had everything under control.

Customers could use competitors to obtain the same services the company provided, and nobody in the IT organization wanted to be the cause of the company's losing business. It was critical that the IT organization help to eliminate the panic that was spreading among employees throughout the organization.

The company's crisis public relations strategy included direct, personal phone calls by the CIO and IT leadership team members to all key external customers and key employee group leaders (via cell phone because the office phones had been knocked out by the fire). In addition, the CIO worked with business-unit management to craft and deliver key messages to the various media, reassuring everyone that although a disaster had occurred, the situation was now stable and in recovery mode.

Finally, things settled down. Because the recovery effort had been so successful, the CIO and others in the company began to speak publicly and to write articles about how they had handled the situation. In doing so, they turned a potentially disastrous situation into an operational and technical success and a bonanza of positive PR that enhanced the company's image considerably in the eyes of customers, the marketplace as a whole and employees.

Adapted from Managing IT as a Business: A Survival Guide for CEOs, by Mark D. Lutchen (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). Lutchen is the former global CIO at PricewaterhouseCoopers and is now leader of the firm's IT business risk management practice.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon