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Lesson from Mad Men Episode 605, “The Flood” : Showing Up Is A Big Part of Successfully Managing a Crisis

Christopher Stanley as Henry Francis in an image from AMCTV.com

Over the past few years, I’ve written posts about “Agency Lessons from Mad Men.”  I haven’t written about this season yet.  Part of it, is that nothing has jumped out at me.  Last night there was a point made offscreen about crisis management.

A driver of the episode was the tragic murder of  Martin Luther King Jr. and how this impacted the characters and New York.  That night and over the following days, riots ripped through many cities across America, but not New York.  Why?  One of the reasons was planning.  Mayor Lindsay had been building relationships with leaders in the African American community in Harlem for months.  Not just high profile leaders, but the people who were real influences on the streets.

When he heard about the assassination, the Mayor immediately went uptown to Harlem, jumped out of his car and walked through the streets talking with people. This was told through the voice of Betty‘s husband, Henry Francis, a Lindsay aide.  Here’s a great article from The Morning News about “The Night New York Avoided a Riot.”

Why is this applicable to agencies and PR?  I spend a lot of time right now on crisis communications, and one of the core tenets of effectively dealing with a crisis is having built alliances and relationships before you need them.  There’s a line in “Spy Game,” which is a somewhat forgettable movie but has a great quote delivered by Nathan Muir where he asks his assistant, “When Did Noah build the ark Gladys? Before the rain..before the rain.”

The other lesson in crisis communications, is showing up, being real and being accessible.  People are less likely to strike out when the object of their rage is a real person.  If it’s a faceless corporation, or a lack of authority, it’s easier for a mob mentality to take control.  By jumping out of the car and being there, Mayor Lindsay did the 1968 equivalent of a Reddit AMA or Twitter availability to deal with an online crisis in 2013.

So, the lessons from this week:

  • Build the ark, or make friends, before it rains; and
  • Don’t be afraid to be in front, be a person and be real.
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