6 keys to brilliant crisis communication

by racheliliadis

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

We all know how that story ended: a tarnished reputation.

In the age of Social Media, a good reputation is as valuable to an organization as Angelina Jolie is to an international adoption agency.

From Bridgestone-Firestone and Enron to Worldcom and Hurricane Katrina, PR practioners have learned the importance of having an impeccable crisis management plan in place. Although no one wants to think a crisis will happen to them, the chances are it most likely will. Often, the crisis cannot be blamed on the company, but the world will blame the company if they don’t respond properly. Every PR practitioner must have a plan in place before the crisis to have any hope of surviving it with their reputation in tact.

Today, I read an article by Russell Working at Ragan.com (http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/42707.aspx), giving six excellent suggestions of developing a plan to combat crises.

But, how do you go about writing something you hope will never be read? Here are some tips:

How do you write something you hope will never be read? Here are some tips:

1. Anticipate the worst

As part of Public Relations, it is a vital part of our job to help companies draft statements for the media, employees and shareholders in a crisis. According to the article, “the plans address specifics, right down to who is in charge of preserving documents. The last thing a firm wants if the FBI shows up is to start shredding documents.”

Gil Rudawsky, a crisis and issues management communicator with GroundFloor Media in Denver says. “But in those rare instances that crises do explode … it helps your client get over the shock of it and already have a foundation to start building bridges to get out of it.”

2. Prepare well

Being prepared is central to strong crisis management.

According to Workers, “Concession speeches (regarding to presidential campaigns) often suffer because the writer hates the idea so much, ‘you slop through it,’ says Lehrman, a novelist and former chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. ‘I try to remind myself to work harder on the one I hope doesn’t happen.'”

3. Don’t spook the boss

This article suggests keeping the plan away from the boss until the crisis occurs. That ensures the CEO, boss, etc. stay positive up until the crisis.

There is some debate in this area. I feel the boss should be well aware of the plan in place so he knows immediately how to react to the certain crisis.

4. Go ahead of the day’s crisis

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, emergency speeches were drafted (in case of further attacks) and sent to other high-security places in the U.S. such as the Sears Building in Chicago and the Peachtree Center in Atlanta.

“We expected that—since these were prominent buildings and they meant something very much like the Twin Towers did to their respective areas—that these were going to be targeted areas,” CEO of Strategic Vision, David E. Johnson says.

5. Don’t delay

The longer you wait, the more the issue will “fester.” The crisis will appear on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube before you can blink. Nothing can be worse than people spreading false rumors.

6. Offer a note of optimism

Ultimately, it’s important to leave your audience with hope in your organization and the situation.

“After a terrorist attack, offer hope and reassurance. If there’s an oil spill or exploding gas pipeline, let the public know you plan to fix the problem,” says Working.

If I could add a 7th to his list, it would be BE HONEST. Always tell the truth. Your stakeholders and audience will be more forgiving if you are upfront and honest. In most cases, lying will be the death of your name and organization. One lie is not worth years of building a trustworthy brand.

Think Johnson & Johnson. Now, they got it right.