CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS On the morning of September 11, the International Financial Services Association was in day two of its annual conference at the Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. There were about 500 attendees; many had offices in the World Trade Center, and all had close ties to the New York financial community. PCI Communications Inc., an Alexandria, Va.-based creative communications company (www.pcicom.com), worked with IFSA leadership and the resort to set up grief counseling, modify social events, and redesign the conference program.

Frequent and clear communication to attendees was crucial, according to the planning team. “Key messages must be repeated often. People who are traumatized simply cannot absorb information as they normally would,” notes Sam Del Brocco, president of PCI, who was on site at the conference. Additional crisis communication strategies recommended by PCI and IFSA:

  • Provide forums for attendees to openly share their feelings and opinions. Allowing people to safely voice conflicting perspectives is vital in a volatile situation.

  • Listen to what attendees want. The decision to continue the IFSA conference was successful because it was truly the consensus of the majority of participants.

  • Acknowledge the impact of the crisis, but offer structured activities to help restore some elements of normalcy. Establishing a modified IFSA conference program quickly was extremely beneficial. Indecision and lack of structure would have added to the sense of chaos and senselessness that participants faced.

  • Be aware of the psychological impact of physical elements like meeting room design. Empty chairs in a meeting room may seem trivial, but not to people apprehensive about missing friends, colleagues, or loved ones.

  • Provide professional psychological support as quickly as possible.

  • Offer simple human comforts — a quiet, darkened room, tissues, food, and human interaction all keep a flow of support and goodwill.