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Expert advice: Prepare now for your next crisis

Every few months, the market gets rocked by some scandal. Some are ridiculous, while others are disheartening.

We’ve had contractors paying kickbacks and ending up in jail. There are hearings on Capitol Hill that serve more to expose the ignorance of Congress about how government contracting works than to uncover any wrongdoing.

Headlines in the mainstream press seem to scream that all contractors are crooks.

But whether the scandal is real or hype, contractors are left with the dilemma of how to respond. It was with that in mind that I reached out to three communications professionals I’ve worked with a lot over the years: Mark Nelson of Leapfrog Solutions; Joyce Bosc, founder of Boscobel, and Sandy Levine, founder of Advice Unlimited.

Our conversation took place via email, but I’ve structured as a Q&A.

What are the first steps a company and its executives should take in a crisis?

Mark Nelson:

You must have key messages and you must stick to them.  No executive should ever address the media without knowing in advance what he is going to say. That is especially true during a crisis.

Joyce Bosc:

Typically, with most crises, the media starts to investigate responsible parties and dotting the lines on day three. This means that companies will be swept into the controversy. These companies should already be prepared to address the media and leverage any good relationships they have. If they react with no comment, or duck-and-cover, their industry reputation will suffer.

Sandy Levine:

Most important: if in fact you made a mistake, admit you made the mistake, apologize, and explain what you’re going to do to make it right. And get this message out FAST. As soon as you know this crisis is going public, you want to get your message out so you control the conversation. You must be sincere, your apology must be real, and you must explain – and implement – tangible steps to make it right.

Is it important to have a crisis communications plan in place before a scandal has hit?

Bosc:

The time to worry about a crisis communications plan is not in the middle of a crisis. Having a crisis communications plan with various “what if” scenarios and actions, when practiced by the management team, will prepare the company so that they can react swiftly and confidently.

What if the information being put out about your company or the situation is wrong?

Levine:

If in fact the negative publicity is misinformation, and you or your organization are innocent of claims being made against you: clearly and calmly explain the truth, provide substantiating evidence that proves your innocence as much as you can, and welcome a discussion of the facts to clear the air and correct the misinformation.

What about internal communications?

Nelson:

Don’t forget your employees. They are your most important asset and they deserve to know how their company is responding to the crisis. Make sure employees hear company news directly from the leadership before it shows up in the media. Being open and honest with your employees will reinforce the trust they have in your leadership and increase the likelihood that they will repeat your key messages to their family and friends, thereby conveying a sense of trust and confidence.

Final thoughts?

Nelson:

When responding to the media, you must be disciplined and stick to those key messages. Do not let a reporter’s microphone suck every related thought out of your brain. Stay on message but update the key messages as the crisis changes.

Levine:

You must be sincere, your apology must be real, and you must explain – and implement – tangible steps to make it right.

Be very accessible: respond to media requests as quickly as possible (max within 30 minutes of a request), and always be calm, respectful, and complete in your response.

Bosc:

There are two key formulas to remember regarding crisis communications:

Speed + Accuracy = Success

Empathy + Openness = Trust

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 15, 2013 at 10:51 AM


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