Legendary investor Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 Years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Nowhere is this more accurate than in public relations, and when faced with a communications crisis how you handle it makes all the difference.

Dream Tours, a Florida-based company that aims to enrich the experience of physically challenged guests guiding them around Disney theme park, is under fire for allegedly helping guests skip the lengthy lines by posing as family members. Since the story broke curtesy of the New York Post yesterday, Dream Tours has been in crisis mode and failing miserably for not recognizing three of the biggest truths about crisis communication.

Crisis Truth #1 You Have To Communicate Immediately

Silence may be golden, but not in PR. Save for a two sentence statement citing “inaccurate press and slander” shutting down their VIP offering, Dream Tours remains silent on the allegations issuing no counter narrative to the press and failing to take full advantage of their own blog or social media channels (which they themselves promote) to correct the supposed misreporting. The longer they remain silent the quicker these allegations become widely accepted as “fact.”

Crisis Truth #2: Social Media Can Make Or Break You

Their company Twitter account contains only two tweets dating back to August of 2012 and their Facebook page was updated just hours ago (more than 36 hours after the Post broke their story) with the first response echoing their website and adding that they’ve now hired counsel to investigate their legal options. On the plus side, their message is consistent. On the negative, the message lacks substance. It’s astounding to me that in our current digital climate where company reputations can rise and fall with a single tweet or Facebook post that Dream Tours is caught so unprepared. The size of the company notwithstanding, in crisis time, long silences are the equivalent of PR suicide. It’s not enough to simply say the story is inaccurate and assume the job is done. With no counter narrative their silence is perceived by the public and the media as guilt, accurate or not.

Crisis Truth #3: Once You Hear The Thunder It’s Too Late To Build The Arc.

Smart companies understand that crisis preparation is key and plans should be drawn up early and practiced often. The good news is that most crises are predictable and thus, can be prepared for accordingly. Do you know who your crisis team is? Have you brainstormed potential crises that may happen to your company? Develop your responses and conduct real-time drills. Like every other type of disaster, you prepare, you practice, you find the gaps and refine. Doing and saying nothing only worsens the problem.

John F. Kennedy once said,

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two letters. One represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”

I’m curious to watch how the rest of this story unfolds.