Crises sometimes can be anticipated; other times they arrive wholly unannounced. Either way, they threaten to significantly disrupt ‘business as usual’. As part of that disruption, they hold the potential for making news.
How an organization handles itself in the early hours of a disrupting event carries great bearing on how that organization will ultimately be viewed in the ‘court of public opinion’.
You must effectively manage crisis events as a means of protecting your most important asset…your organizational reputation.
Organizational Crisis: An internal or external event that causes an interruption of normal operations and simultaneously threatens your reputation.
Organizational Reputation: Reputation is not an abstract concept. It’s a vital corporate asset that acts as a magnet to attract customers, employees and investors, supporters and donors with multiple direct links to your bottom line performance. Reputation is hard-earned and quickly lost. When good things happen, your reputation slowly accumulates. When bad things happen, it suddenly and dramatically diminishes. If left unaddressed, this sudden loss would be followed by a long-term negative residual.
Crisis Communications: A set of techniques that is focused entirely on shortening the time span between the start of the crisis and the return to business as usual.
Guiding Principles for Crisis Communications
In today’s round-the-clock news environment, you have one hour (or less) to respond to a crisis. Are you ready?
- Never lie. People only support organizations they trust.
- Follow a “full disclosure” principle. Give all known information that has been factually established except for admission of fault.
- Communicate frequently, as often as possible, whenever new information is ready to deliver.
- If you want people to hear your side of the story, level with them. Facts are specific. Platitudes are ignored.
- Facts are your most powerful tool for managing crisis communications. They occupy space that would otherwise be filled with rumor and speculation.
- Get all the bad news out at once on a carefully planned basis. Covering up bad news never helps in the long run. People can take bad news, and they respond to it far more positively than they do to uncertainty, unanswered questions, and shifty responses.
- The only way to “control” an issue is to take a leadership position. Address difficult topics directly. You can’t avoid “controversial” ones no matter how hard you try.
- Avoid all speculation and premature announcement.
- “No comment” is not an option. Remaining silent means you agree with your critics, which often equals “Guilty as charged”.
- Before you spend time thinking about answers, figure out what you will be asked. Know what your audience wants and expects from you. Rehearse possible questions ahead of time. Knowing your messages and how to use them is the key to communicating well.
- Know how to present your facts clearly and quickly — under 20 seconds whenever possible. Prepare file cards or notes with points you want to make. Check pronunciations.
- Manage your — and others’ — emotions.
- Be calm. Keep your tone down and don’t be combative if questions turn hostile.
- If a reporter has a hidden agenda, hold your ground; repeat your key message points. Don’t go on the defensive.
- Correct any false statements immediately. Object to invalid statements or misleading characterizations.
- Assume everything is “on the record”. Don’t speculate. Deliver your message with the facts, make your point and stop.
- Demonstrate compassion.
- Admit mistakes. Do so with honesty and humility. You can defuse a hostile situation by exposing your humanness.
- Tell the truth. Even if it hurts. Candor receives more positive attention than “no comment” and defuses hostility.