We are only a few days into March and already 2010 has seen a fair share of crisis communications–some well executed, some leaving much to be desired. In light of this, I offer three simple, universal “to dos” that can be applied to help successfully navigate through any crisis situation. 1. Create a crisis plan--NOW. Every company, organization or public figure should have a plan at the ready. When a crisis strikes you must be ready to jump into action. Having a plan you and your colleagues are familiar with and that has been approved by the various stakeholders, is imperative to your success. Include template documents, drawer statements and a management roster with contact information including cell phone and home numbers for each member of the team. When you are knee deep in the triage of an emergency you will not have the time or ability to appropriately deal with issues such as ironing out company policies and procedures or identifying who will serve as the company’s primary and secondary spokespeople. These must be determined in advance.
Although you never know when you will need a crisis plan, and certainly hope it is a document that will just collect dust on your desk, if you do find yourself in an emergency situation, you will be immensely thankful.
2. Communicate what you know honestly and immediately. This is single most crucial piece of advice for managing any crisis. There is no getting around this. It is always best to rip the bandage off quickly, rather than peeling it away slowly, which can only create more curiosity and media interest. Being truthful is the first step in re-establishing trust, credibility and confidence with your audiences. Be prepared to explain what happened, how it happened, why and what you are going to do about it. If you are not sure of any of these details, say so. Clearly state that you are still gathering the relevant information and will provide additional information as soon as you receive it and then be sure to follow up on this promise. Immediate communication will offer more control of the media response, preparation of key messages and usually makes for shorter, less severe coverage.
3. Take responsibility and show genuine empathy for those impacted. The media will always tell a story through the eyes of a consumer or victim, depending on the situation. It is critical that you display genuine concern and immediately employ tactics to protect their well-being.
At the end of the day, accidents happen and issues arise. You can not control if or when a crisis will strike, but what you can control is how you respond.