Today’s 24-hour news cycle can place an individual, business or brand at risk at the slightest hint of controversy or legal problem. Acting swiftly to prevent a crisis from deepening is imperative. You must take control and manage the message in a cool, confident manner. What you do – or don’t do – in those first critical hours can be the difference between saving your reputation or inflicting irreparable harm. Think BP. Think FEMA. And, most recently, Volkswagen.
During a crisis you must act in a manner that helps quell rumors, maintains confidence among customers, vendors, employees and board members, as well as shapes public opinion. Unless you act quickly and appropriately, your business and brand reputation, and the character and veracity of your leadership team can all be placed in jeopardy.
Long before an issue comes to a conclusion, positive or negative, business associates, employees, customers, as well as the public at large often pass judgment on the party in question based on news reports, websites, online blogs or the rumor mill. Acting quickly and smartly, it’s possible to influence the way a story is told and conceivable to alter the outcome of that story. You have the power to control the message–or at least minimize the damage–in most situations.
Issues such as adherence to regulations, employee lawsuits, product recall, and leadership behavior are just a few of the nightmares that call for well-prepared strategic communications protocols, not knee-jerk reactions. Here is what needs to be done in most every situation:
- Assign one–and only one–spokesperson to make statements and answer questions.
- Develop clear talking points and protocols.
- Create a well-crafted press release and send it to the appropriate media.
- Hold a media event allowing you to control the message.
- Meet with employees and board members to quash unfounded rumors.
- Keep customers and vendors informed of the situation.
- Control 0nline SEO management to minimize negative search engine hits.
- Maximize reach through social media.
This is not a prudent response to a question about the problem. The perception will be that you have got to be hiding something. Plus, you will look guilty as hell on the six-o’clock news. The best thing to do if the media jumps all over you before a response protocol has been established is to say you are…”Still sifting through all the details and will be making a formal statement tomorrow at 3:00 pm.”
At our marketing firm we develop marketing plans for all types of businesses and organizations. Beyond the required strategies such as branding, public relations, advertising and online communications we normally insist upon a crisis management strategy that clearly lays out the modus operandi when a problem arises. Chain of communication, selected media contacts, customer and vendor contacts, and employee communications are all included.
If you don’t have such a plan, you should consider one immediately and ensure key members of your organization are aware of it.