When I was first starting my career in PR, the first client I had the lead role on was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  For a junior staff person, this was a dream account to learn the ropes on. The client was the regional promoter – a terrifically creative marketer with a wonderful sense of humor and great connections across the city. With him, I was introduced to senior executives at radio stations, the old Boston Garden and large corporations like Stop & Shop.

But the reason it was the ultimate training ground was their Publicist’s Handbook. This “bible” gave me everything I needed to promote the show’s two-week engagement in Boston. From press release templates to promotional event ideas to sample gift bags for media guests, the Ringling corporate PR team anticipated it all. And, they anticipated the worst. They provided language for EVERYTHING: protests, accidents, natural disasters and legal actions. Working on this account was like a graduate course in public relations and crisis communications. I was lucky to only have had to deal with one PETA protest in my four years as a Circus publicist, but the preparation I witnessed made this very green publicist speak with a lot of confidence.

Watching the response to this week’s terrible accident in Providence was no surprise. Their spokesperson was calm, compassionate and sure-spoken as to the Circus’s commitment to their performers, guests and staff’s safety. And, he had facts at hand to anticipate interviewer’s questions. As a result, I have seen very little negative commentary towards the Circus in this case. Corporate and agency PR professionals should take a page from their book and encourage clients to be prepared.  As the saying goes, “when you least expect it, expect it.” Indeed, the best way to minimize the damage is to be well-versed in your key messages and deliver them with compassion and humanity.