Crisis Management: 10 Crisis Communications Action Steps: Crisis response
When a client and I meet to solve a problem, the Reassurance Principle sets a philosophical foundation, then we turn to this Crisis Communications Action Tree to guide us toward more specific actions. (The Reassurance Principle states that since news consumers usually want to know most of all “Am I safe?”, your actions and words in a crisis should REASSURE them that you are endeavoring to ensure they are safe: personal safety, safety of others, property, values, beliefs, etc.)
Crisis Communications Action Tree
- Take care of victims or perceived victims (the victim is where the story is)
- Fix the problem (when did you learn about it and what did you do about it?)
- Notify stakeholders – and usually not through the news media
- Act fast to acknowledge the situation (respond in the first story if possible)
- Get it over with
- Don’t make it worse
- Tell the truth
- Rehearse critical press interviews
- Follow your crisis communications plan
All are important, but the first four are almost mandatory. Let’s look at each step.
1. Take care of victims or perceived victims (the victim is where the story is)
Reporters focus on “the abnormal”, and the presence of victims or perceived victims signals something is wrong. Eliminate their concerns and they are no longer victims. Often, no victims means no story. Furthermore, the simple action of taking care of victims – even if it may be painful – is reassuring tangible evidence, if not proof, that you are determined to do the right thing.
2. Fix the problem (When did you learn about it and what did you do about it?)
People want to know that as soon as you knew something was amiss, you acted. Determine if there is a fundamental problem and fix it. Unfixed, the problem remains as a cancer at the heart of all that you do, undermining your other efforts, and perhaps leaving you in worse shape than you were at the beginning.
3. Notify stakeholders – and usually not through the news media
Keep in the loop all who need to know – whether it be employees, shareholders, investors, regulators, politicians, neighbors, authorities, etc. Let them get the information (and what you are doing about it) from you and they will appreciate it. They may become allies. Without information from you – especially if they learn it from the news media – stakeholders can become enemies. Sometimes when the public is a stakeholder, the best and fastest means of alerting them IS through the news media.
4. Act fast to acknowledge the situation (respond in the first story if possible)
Reporters “lock in” on their perception of what what is happening as they gather facts. If they do not know your side of the crisis until the last minute then your response generally will have far less impact on the story content. So provide your information as fast as you reasonably can. You don’t want the public to get the “prosecution” without the “defense.” Always communicate your response in the first story as fast as possible.
5. Get it over with
Sometimes it is best to cut your losses and take bold action rather than let an acute situation become chronic. As it has been said, “The first check you pay will be the smallest!”
6. Don’t make it worse
On the other hand, beware aggravating the situation by stonewalling, overreacting, being hostile and uncooperative unless there is absolutely no other way to protect your reputation. Be thoughtful and deliberate, just don’t dither and procrastinate.
7. Tell the truth
Seems simple but businesses sometimes risk their credibility by not owning up to the truth of a situation and attempting to mask it with spin control or well-intended deceptions. That will get you in the end. A corollary is “keep no secrets.” Nasty secrets buried inside of public crises always seem to find a way to the surface. Put it on the table yourself and deal with it constructively.
Make sure that your actions are consistent with the Reassurance Principle.
9. Rehearse critical press interviews
Using skills developed through media training, role-play important interviews in the company of trusted associates before doing them with reporters. If the situation is serious enough, call in a crisis consultant to prepare you.
10. Follow your crisis communications plan
Have a plan ready before trouble strikes and execute it when trouble strikes. It should facilitate your operating with common sense at lightning speed. Having said that, your plan is only as good as your crisis team that is responsible for executing it.
By now, you almost certainly know that rarely, if ever, should you say “No comment” when facing a public problem. Saying nothing may be legally pleasing to avoid misstatement, but it hardly enhances your reputation or reassures outsiders. That is why media coaching is valuable. It is a path to reputation-saving actions and comments. However, as I watched happen with one company, you can fall into a hole so deep that corrective action and constructive comments are almost unachievable and “no comment” thinkable.