Lessons Learned: Crisis Communication


A crisis.  It's not a question of if, but when?  It's something we'll likely all need to deal with at some point in our public relations careers.  They come in all sizes from the massive scale of BP's recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to a company employee getting caught stealing money from a customer.  So are you and your team ready for the unexpected?

Our September program analyzes the crisis communications response to the tsunami threat of the Hawaiian Islands back on February 27 following the devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile.  As expected, the news of impending danger quickly made headlines on national TV news outlets across the county.  Social media channels also immediately filled with information - true and false - and non-stop updates on the situation.  Local emergency and government officials took nothing for granted and worked quickly to assess the situation and get information out to everyone potentially in harms way.  The result was a well-informed public - businesses included - who took the necessary steps to ensure the safety of residents and visitors alike. Thankfully, the situation turned out to be a non-event.

So what can we learn from all of this?

Marsha Wienert, tourism liaison for the State of Hawaii, and Momi Akimseu, tourism brand manager for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, share insights on how they worked together to handle the crisis that day.  We'll also present a case study from John Garcia, local resident and social media enthusiast, who created the HawaiiTsunami.com website within hours of the warning announcement. His site, which included live streaming news coverage, a Twitter feed with updates, and current local news headlines, drew more than 100,000 unique visitors that day.  Also learn:

  • Why advance preparation is critical and tips on preparing a plan for the unexpected

  • How to keep communications flowing smoothly through all channels during the event from government to the public and everywhere in between

  • Tactics on getting information out to target audiences (including the media) to ensure correct information is being shared

  • Harnessing the power of citizen journalists and social media as an integrated part of a crisis strategy

  • Key learnings - Successes of the crisis communications plan...and things they may have done differently

MarshaWienertMarsha Wienert has been directly involved in Hawai`i's tourism industry for over 25 years. She began her career in resort development and destination marketing on the island of Maui. Wienert joined the Maui Visitors Bureau and served as executive director, where she was instrumental in repositioing Maui's marketing efforts to create a new synergy between travel partners, resorts, airlines, Maui County Administration and the Maui County Council. 


Momi AkimseuMomi Akimseu is a tourism brand manager at Hawai`i Tourism authority (HTA), the state's tourism agency. In this position, she directs and oversees agency commuications, research and planning efforts for Hawai`i tourism, including the development of state and county tourism strategic plans, HTA's strategic plan, and tourism crisis management plans.

Well versed in emergency preparedness, Akimseu helped to develop HTA's Crisis Reference Manual to support the efforts of Hawai`i's visitor industry relating to disaster preparedness and crisis communications, as well as helping to establish the HTA Command Center. In addition to focusing on marketing and communications at HTA, Akimseu also oversees the area of safety and security, coordinating with the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawai`i (VASH), a non-profit statewide visitor assistance service program. 

Click here to register online. Or for cash/check payments, RSVP to programs@prsahawaii.org. Payment due at door or mail to: PRSA Hawaii, P.O. Box 3566, Honolulu, HI 96811 Credit card payment will not be accepted at the door.

For more information, email programs@prsahawaii.org, visit www.prsahawaii.org or contact Program Chairs Jocelyn Collado or Tess Staadecker at 533-4165.


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