To most people a crisis is bad and for the most part, they’d probably be right. However, an organization can do good things when they are hit with a crisis; some may even say there is an opportunity. The situation itself might be bad enough but it it’s not being managed correctly or communications aren’t approached in a positive way, the crisis can be compounded because the media and the public will think there are more things being hidden by the organization.
If it seems that an organization isn’t prepared – through its communications and response actions – the media and public may start to go ‘hunting’ for more information and uncover other details of the organization that the organization may not want released. Not that they are bad examples on their own but compounded with the existing crisis they will seem larger and could create another crisis or even escalate the existing one. The organization will then be fighting more than one crisis on its hands.
Below are some tips for how to communicate during a crisis; some do’s and don’ts and tips for ensuring good communications when speaking to the media and the general public.
1. Lawyers Aren’t the Face of the Organization – This is one of the biggest mistakes organizations make when communicating with the media and public; they let their lawyers do the talking. Lawyers are good at what they do don’t get me wrong, they just aren’t the ‘face’ of the organization. Often they will speak in terms that the public either don’t understand or don’t want to hear. The public wants to hear what the situation is and what the organization is going to do about the crisis, not the legalities it’s taking to find blame (which is what the lawyers will be trying to do to wither minimize or remove the burden off the shoulders of the organization).
2. Apologize and Show You Care – Be sincere and offer apologies. Don’t say you’re sorry and continue with a ‘but’ statement, as it just nullifies the apology and the public and media will know you really aren’t showing care of the parties involved or impacted by the crisis. It shows you’re trying to defend the organization rather than helping those impacted – or possibly injured – as a result of the situation. Apologizing with sincerity can soften the anger towards the organization and actually help bring people towards the organization by offering assistance. Apologizing also shows that the main concern of the organization is people, not money or shareholders, but people impacted by the situation.
3. Leadership – You’ve got to have the leaders in front of the camera. Public Relations or Human Resource Managers can be in front of the camera only so long before people begin to question the leadership qualities of those in charge if they aren’t being seen by the public. Organizational leaders must be seen during a crisis, not just when good things occur.
4. Responsibility – Many may not agree but take responsibility for what happened. To deny or lay blame immediately isn’t appreciated. Even if you know the situation was not caused by your organization, it’s your organization in the headlines and people are watching. So take responsibility and take control of the situation; you can always find the blame later and take necessary actions.
5. Don’t Delay – Too often many organizations take too long to put a response together. If there’s a delay in response it could send the message that you’re trying to hide something or that you’re hoping the situation will just go away, which it won’t. Even a quick press conference to state what you know – even if it’s very little – still shows that you’re on top of events and managing the situation, not letting the situation manage you.
6. Ask for Help – There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It may not mean asking for help to restore systems and processes but it may be to ask help from the media to communicate key phone numbers or websites that employees or customers or the public can access to get more information or provide information on what they might know about the disaster. The media is always willing to help and to a large degree, when an organization requests assistance with such initiatives, it helps show the public you have nothing to hide because you’re inviting others to participate and offer assistance.
7. Communicate Even When It’s Over – A crisis isn’t over after a day or two in the headlines; it’s over when you’ve learned something and resolved the matter so that it doesn’t occur again (if the situation allows for that). If you’ve had an internal problem that caused the crisis, communicating days or weeks later that the situation has been resolved, shows that you learned something from the crisis and saw it through to the end by resolving it and letting other know of that resolution.
8. Leaders Need Training – Everyone needs training to improve their skills and move forward, this includes corporate / organizational leaders. No one knows when a crisis will occur – and it will – so leaders need to have training on how to communicate in crisis. There are many crisis management & communication courses offered so leaders should prepare themselves. They expect the rest of the organization to be prepared and do their part when a crisis or disaster occurs, so leaders need to ensure they are prepared.
© Stone Road Inc. 2013 (A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA)