May 2, 2022
Your business will experience a crisis. It’s not “if"; it's "when." It may be a big one, like "Brand X's Latest Medical Device Turns Patients into Zombies," or a small one like "Supply Chain Disruptions Means Three Percent Less Cotton in Each Brand X Cotton Swab.” But a crisis is coming. And you can handle it like a champ or a chump, and the marketplace will decide which one you are. From a public relations perspective, a crisis is any event or circumstance that negatively impacts an organization’s or individual’s reputation, credibility, or brand. And in a crisis, whoever oversees your company’s PR will get the chance to earn their paycheck. They’ll counsel the C-Suite on how to respond to the public, what information is appropriate to share, and the language used to share it. There are three basic rules for Crisis Communication, affectionately referred to as the Golden Triangle of Crisis Communication because they are all equally important.
- Plan Ahead. As in most things in life, prior planning is key to preventing poor performance. Handling a business crisis is not something you want to do on the fly. Start by creating a detailed contingency plan that outlines every conceivable crisis and appropriate response. Wargame this with all the heavy hitters in the C-Suite and get your general counsel involved to factor in any legal ramifications. Important note: This will be painful and time-consuming, and no one will feel they have time for it. But it will be worth it.
- Build an "action plan" that can be quickly implemented by every member of the executive, communications, and operations teams in the event of a crisis. Spending the time and effort before a problem happens will save time and resources in the long run. Pro tip: When detailing who is in charge of what elements in the action plan, use positions and titles rather than names. People move around, but jobs tend to stay the same.
- Be fast. In a crisis, speed is paramount. It’s crucial to acknowledge a crisis immediately. Any information vacuum will fill with conjecture, rumor, and misinformation, especially in this day and age of social media. You may not be able to provide all the details, but a prompt announcement to the media and your key publics will mitigate speculation and rumor and let audiences know you are in control. Pro Tip: Let audiences know if the situation is fluid and that you will keep them updated as new and better information becomes available. Being quick with communication sometimes comes at the expense of being accurate, so make sure your audiences know that upfront.
- Be transparent. In the public relations world, an old axiom is that the cover-up is always worse than the transgression. Every PR pro has a story about how a company could have fared much better had they just been upfront with information from the beginning. They usually tell these stories to their CEO when they're convincing them to be upfront with information at the beginning. Think Enron. Or VW. Or the Nixon Administration. So, what should you do in a crisis? Take responsibility. Tell the truth. And don’t engage in a cover-up or unethical behavior. That stuff will always come out. Always. Pro-tip: Stick to facts, don’t assume, don’t make blanket statements, and don’ play the blame game. Oh, and never say “No Comment.” If you don’t know an answer to a question, tell them you’ll find out. And then be sure to follow up.
If you need help developing a Crisis Communications plan, drop us a line, and we can show you how to get started.
Comments: Ben Singleton