Crisis Management: How to put the fire out before it becomes an inferno

oh no

By: Phoebe Yong

It really depends on how you define “crisis.” Are you talking Bruce Jenner fatal car wreck or Brian Williams telling tall tales embarrassment?

(I hope) most of our business crises don’t qualify for five consecutive days of headline news. The majority of the bad publicity I’ve worked on includes escalating bad public perception of customer service, mishandling of private information, disgruntled ex-employees making very public statements, and a CEO not responding well to down spiraling stock prices.

For each of these situations, one common theme abides – be swift and forthright. Sounds simple right? But you would be surprised how many executives do not follow this obvious approach and instead avoid media, offer little or fragmented information and act supercilious. Public perception is paramount when a negative situation is unclear, confusing and frightening.

1. Be quick to respond and be honest

There is nothing worse than hearing, “They’ve told us nothing”, “We haven’t heard from them”, or “No one is say anything”. Often when there is a crisis, people impacted want to know what the company is doing about it, what the company knows, when they found out it, and who to contact.  It’s important to have procedures and processes in place within your organization that deals both with a formal sequence of communications internally and how to effectively communicate to the public. This includes having a company spokesperson(s), media liaison, and speech/copy-writers to help with public statements.  Act quickly and swiftly to show that you have your act together.

2. Be thorough, but not silent

Sometimes, you may need time to figure things out. For example, with a security breach I was working on, where private information had gone public, we knew there was a security breach but it took time to examine what had happened, numbers impacted and a course to take. While you’re figuring this out, and it’s important that you do to get your facts straight, don’t stay silent. Be open and prudent, acknowledge the situation and that you will be open with the public with any new findings.

3. Have someone likeable talking

Another obvious comment. This goes beyond being media trained. This is about having someone who speaks with clarity, command and compassion. Be likeable with the media and show empathy with the public to demonstrate you sincerely understand the problem at hand and offer a genuine course of action to fix the crisis.

A note from the author:
These notes were taken from many conversations with Magnolia’s Senior Communications Director, Jina You, who has spent over 20 years as a field journalist dealing with PR handlers and CEOs facing hot questions. Jina offers media training and crisis management consultation on what not to do in crisis management.

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