Communication in the Wake of a Disaster

Note from Julie Hennrikus: After the Marathon bombings last month, several people had conversations around communications strategies by organizations. It was a difficult time, and Jim Torres agreed to write a blog post, helping us start a conversation.

By Jim Torres, SpeakEasy Stage Company

A month ago we all went through a real-life experience that none of us had been trained for, in school or in our careers to date. The responses that different organizations made to the Marathon bombings and the aftermath were fascinating — an interesting exercise in messaging with eblasts and social media, especially before Friday, on Friday, and after. SpeakEasy didn’t have a production going on — so we had no performances we h either to confirm or cancel — but we struggled with the question of whether to do something or not. We didn’t want to appear to be adding to the general noise factor or exploiting the tragedy in any way. So, we looked around to see what other organizations were doing: the responses were all different, but we think most made good calls.

Those who had shows going on had a need for an immediate interaction with their public. The Huntington, for example, opted to cancel Tuesday night’s performance of “M” in part to allow folks time to take in all that had happened, show respect for those who were killed or injured, and to make it easy for those fearful or uncertain about traveling into the area. The Lyric Stage on Wednesday went out with a letter from Spiro, a scroll on their website assuring folks their performance was on, and a set of directions on how to get around the roadblocks.

Communications also went out from some organizations who didn’t have performances. The Celebrity Series sent an eblast Wednesday explaining their decision to go ahead with their season announcement on Thursday despite all that was going on. The Theater Offensive — whose administrative offices are less than a block away from the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, and who had staffers who had run in the Marathon — came out with an especially personal and poignant email from Abe.

Some with performances in the week after the bombings, such as Broadway in Boston, Lyric Stage, and Company One, collected at their shows for the Mayor’s OneBoston Fund. Probably others did this as well.

Of course, many things had to be cancelled on the Friday evening following the bombings, as we were all instructed to “shelter in place.” It was eerie to watch CNN reporters who were set up in Watertown right across the street from New Rep. And many organizations reported that walk-up sales were slow for the entire weekend.

Aside from performances, this is “gala season” in Boston, and the Globe ran an article talking about how organizations decided to handle galas that were scheduled for the weekend following the Marathon. The Ballet was especially interesting; theirs was scheduled for Saturday, but the Friday lockdown meant that preparations and deliveries couldn’t happen, so they postponed to a date in May and — in a wonderful move — donated any perishable food that was already on hand to the Women’s Lunch Place, an agency that serves homeless women.

Outside the arts, it was interesting too how the Red Sox ran with Boston Strong messaging, how the Yankees earned such good will for their efforts, and how Chicago’s sports support seemed late and lame.

Altogether this makes for an interesting and instructive case study on handling disasters. I’d be interested in hearing how other organizations chose to communicate in the week after the attacks.

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About jhennrikus

Julie Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource
This entry was posted in Community, News, Up for Discussion. Bookmark the permalink.

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