All organizations are susceptible to crises. If the company is serving a community there are very few ways, if any, to get out of being subjected to situations involving lawsuits, accusations of bad behavior, and other volatile situations that stakeholders and the media that serves them often focus on. Jonathan Bernstein, a crisis management guru, believes: “The cheapest way to turn experiences into future profits is to learn from others’ mistakes.” With that in mind, I will outline how to deal with crises. Below are what Bernstein outlines as “What NOT to do when your organization is faced with a crisis.”
If you want your crisis to flourish, you should
- Say nothing and do nothing for as long as possible.
- Hope that no one hears about it.
- Assume you will have time to react.
- Treat the media like the enemy.
- React to the situation.
- Use a lot of jargon.
- Ignore your stakeholders.
- Address just the issues and ignore feelings.
- Make only written statements.
If you do the above actions, you can guarantee that when a crisis arises it will flourish. As cheesy and over-used as it may seem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To prevent and diminish crises, remember the three Rs: research, response, recovery. Adapted from Kami Huyse’s presentation on “Crisis Communication: The Savvy Communicator”
Research: Use resources to gather accurate info quickly: Never speculate. Know every possible crisis that could arise, have a set plan, and know all of the ins and outs of your organization’s operations. Anything can blow up, so it is important to be prepared for all possible situations.
- Relationship building: Know your stakeholders to gain their trust and approval.
- Emergency personnel: Create a team that consists of a spokesperson, a phone crew, a researcher, a writer, a business continuity, a decision maker, and if applicable, legal council.
- Notification procedures: When a crisis emerges know who you are going to notify, the personnel team, the board of directors, employees, and any other stakeholders.
- Communication procedures: Know what platform to implement the strategy, who and what is your priority and know the company policies or have the manual on hand.
- Practice: Run through possible crisis situations to be as prepared as possible.
Appoint a specific spokesperson who can demonstrate interest and authenticity. Also, the spokesperson needs to be responsive, proactive, and open to criticism. This person should only provide the media with pre-approved statements. Remember that the best thing the spokesperson can do is be accurate, and it’s fine to reply to reporters with the responses, “I don’t want to speculate. I will find out and get back to you once I know more information.”
Response: Once the crisis hits, go through the steps created during the research stage and implement them.
- Emergency Notification: Call everyone who needs to be involved and “in the know.”
- Gather Information: Find out every bit of information about the crisis and ways to best relay the info to the public.
- Releasing information: Prep the spokesperson so they can go on air as soon as possible. The earlier a company explains the problem the more likely it is that people will forgive and understand the situation in your favor.
- Stages of the crisis: The steps are from Kami Huyse’s “Crisis Management: The Four Emotional Stages of Disaster.”
1. Heroic Phase: This phase usually occurs directly after the crisis, when “heroic” actions are taken to help people (or companies) recover from and/or survive a crisis. The media may be just arriving on the scene or not yet arrived at this phase.
2. Honeymoon Phase: In this phase people draw together to solve problems in an intense showing of community. Media interest is intense during this phase.
3. Disillusionment Phase: People begin to get a mentality of “everyone for himself” when delays and other issues common with crises set in. About this time media interest begins to fade and blame is assigned. This phase could extend from two months to one or more years.
4. Reconstruction Phase: People start to pull together again to get things done, delays in the process continue to garner negative feelings and reactions. The media may revisit the crises at this time (one-year anniversaries, etc.)
These stages are geared toward more extreme cases, but organizations can apply them to any type of crisis or disaster.
Recovery: Follow up with media, stakeholders, employees, and all others concerned. If you have provided accurate information in a timely manner the better chance your company has of recovering from the crisis.
Remember one of the keys to successfully derailing a crisis is the news media. Get them inside the crisis, brief them as often as new information becomes available, and give them an insider’s perspective of how it is that you handle a crisis. It sounds like a bad idea, but it works. According to Clarence Jones “Winning with the News Media”
- Reporters are, by nature, gossips.
- Being inside gives journalists special knowledge, power and prestige.
- By watching your decision-making process, reporters can better understand the options.
- They are more likely to report you were the good guy who did the right thing, and made the best of a bad situation.
“The Seven Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communication” by John Bradfield
“The Moral (and Economic) Value of Saying You’re Sorry,” by Gerald Baron
“7 Must-Have Elements in Every Crisis Communication Kit” by Don Crowther