Editor’s Note: This post was first published on LinkedIn.
Few people ever think they’re going to have a crisis at work. That’s something that happens to “the other guy” right? The unfortunate reality is crises happen all the time in business. I was recently called in to manage communications for an “unexpected” (they all are) corporate crisis. Here are some tips to remember.
1. Call in a Crisis Communications Expert: Even though a CEO may think they are expert at handling calls from the media, it’s best to bring in someone who works with the media everyday. This needs to be someone who understands the way the media works, who the key influencers are, and what their deadlines are. Preferably this is someone who’s had a working relationship with the local media for years.
2. Employees Will Call the Media. Count on it: Remember that famous line from Shakespeare? Et tu Brute? There were double crossers back then and there are still double crossers today. It’s interesting to me how very trusting CEO’s are of their employees. They are always taken aback when they receive that first call from the media only to learn that their very own paycheck-loving employee was the one to inform the local news channel.
3. Consider Internal Publics: Given point number 2 the company actually wants to get to internal folks first. They are the ones who will carry the message out to their loved ones and, in some cases, to the media.
4. Remember External Publics: Does the company need to speak directly to an external audience, namely customers? If so what is the best communications channel to take? Web site? Social media? Direct mail?
5. Monitor the Online Conversation: Keep in touch with “the buzz” about the event on social media channels. Is it just people whining and belly aching or do some of the comments have merit?
6. Be Authentic: Tell the truth when a reporter asks a question. If the interviewee doesn’t know the answer, say so. People can always smell out a liar. Don’t do it.
7. Be Careful Not to Implicate Others: Until all the facts are known it’s best to keep other company’s names out of the story. Just stick with what is known.
8. Get it Right the First Time. Know that the initial news release and first company statements will live on and get repeated over and over online. Other news outlets simply pick up the first stories, change a few words and repeat.
9. Time is of the essence. By the time the professional communicator is called in there is generally only a few hours to prepare. Be sure the consultant works well under pressure. The communicator needs to synthesize the facts, write a news release and assemble a communications game plan in a very short time.
10. Be prepared: It’s best to plan ahead. When possible, take steps to create some scenarios in advance of an actual crisis. Knowing who the company spokesperson is and having them media trained is a step in the right direction. Readiness helps.
Since I first wrote this and published it on LinkedIn I’ve been invited to speak to a group of regional Human Resources Directors. What are some tips you would add to the conversation from your own experience with workplace crises?
It’s so important to be prepared for a crisis and I appreciate the steps you’ve outlined here. I especially like the Be Authentic step and Just stick with what is known.
Trudy being authentic and genuine in a crisis really shows the mark of a leader.
It’s so important to have a plan in place before a crisis happens. I think your tip #1 is key. Hiring an expert is so important especially in times of crisis. It will be totally worth it!
Mitch, while every leader thinks they can handle a crisis when it happens, not every leader has the media training, know-how and savvy to go before the cameras and to speak to reporters at the time of an incident. That is why preparation is key!