‘Cut out and keep’ guide to crisis management

Nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of it happening, but should a crisis hit, the ability to act fast can make all the difference.

No doubt you’ve read all the books that tell you ‘the key to crisis management is advanced planning’, and yet it’s surprisingly common to find that this particular job never quite made it to the top of your to do list.

It’s a fact of life that every organisation is vulnerable to crises, so should you find yourself in this position, this blog post is for you. Cut out and keep it (or rather cut and paste) so that if the unthinkable occurs and you get a call from a journalist who has uncovered a major fault in your product, or from a customer who says your products have corrupted their data, you have a starting point on how to act.

1. Get the facts from the horse’s mouth

As a PR person, you need to ensure that whatever you say to the press is true.  Never state that the situation is under control if it isn’t. This means you need to go directly to the team or manager dealing with the problem and get the information straight from them. Do not accept a well-meaning messenger as a go between – the Chinese whisper effect can completely change a story.

2. Limit the damage

If you can take steps to prevent more damage occurring while the situation unfolds, do so. Stop production, send emails or call customers to alert them to the issue and let them know how they might be affected.

3. Decide who needs to be contacted

Work out who the stakeholders are – employees, customers, investors, the press – and who needs to be liaised with in order to communicate with them effectively. For example, are there other partners who need to be involved in a joint statement? Can contact be made so that releases can be co-ordinated and notice given to each other of statements? This approach ensures you are not blindsided by any surprise statements from others involved.

4. Adopt a holding position

Consider releasing an interim statement until you get the facts straight. ‘We are aware of the situation and are investigating the cause. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information,’ is far better to a journalist or customer than complete silence. It shows you are open and willing to talk, so the press are less likely to jump to conclusions.

5. Draft a response

When drafting a statement, there are two sides to consider:

1)     Put yourself in the mind of the victims – what do they want to hear?

2)     Put yourself in the mind of your client – what are they able to say?

An effective response will give equal weighting to both these points. But be careful with the wording – any line from a statement could be taken out of context.

6. Choose the right channels

Decide how to communicate the response and via which channels. If the story has been picked up widely you will need to be communicating to the media directly, plus to customers via your web site, social media channels and even on a one-to-one basis via email and phone when customers contact you directly.

 

7. The personal touch

A personal response from a named spokesperson is always best, even for a written statement. If you need a ‘live’ spokesperson, make sure that they are your best and most skilled speaker, and that they have been recently media trained. Also ensure they are fully briefed on the situation so that they can answer questions as fully and honestly as possible.

8. Don’t play the blame game

Avoid placing the blame fully and explicitly on someone else’s doorstep. Even if others were involved, it looks bad. If appropriate, and legally possible, apologise. That is often all people want to hear; that the company accepts they have made a mistake.

 

9. Encourage positive stories

By being open and honest, and giving clear information about the steps you are taking to quickly address the issue, you will find that not every story is relentlessly negative. You can carefully encourage this subtle change of focus by bringing in allies to help, perhaps a happy customer or an association contact. Above all, making sure you do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it, will reap dividends in the long run.

10. Review your strategy post-crisis

After the crisis has passed, review your strategy. What worked, what didn’t work, what needs to change should the unthinkable happen again in the future.

If you want this post as a PDF to keep on file, feel free to email me at catherine@catherinelane.com

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  • About the Author

    It’s my job to look strategically at our clients’ goals for their brand and then apply my knowledge of PR, the media and online communities to make sure that we deliver. The part of my job that I enjoy most is being able to provide a fresh perspective for our clients – and uncovering the best way to raise the profile of their brand. I also love keeping up to date with the ever changing nature of PR.

    Before setting up the business, I worked both in-house and agency-side doing PR in the education and telecoms sectors. I split my time between France and the UK and so I can often be found at airports smuggling cheddar cheese into the land of camembert.

6 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Agree with most of this and just wanted to add re #8 (never apologise) that it’s possible to say we are sorry without implying blame as in: “We are all so sorry to hear of your loss and we are working flat out to find out what happened.” No-one realistically expects you to wave a magic wand and fix something immediately, but they do need to hear regular evidence of serious action being taken, preferably involving credible external experts in very serious incidents.

    • Catherine Lane Catherine Lane
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that is a good point. 99 times out of 100 people just want to know that you have dropped everything and working to resolve the situation, even if you do not know entirely what happened or what the resolution is yet.

  2. Posted August 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Another essential point to remember is that in some situations your client’s insurance company may want/need to be involved as well. This means that you may have to restrict yourselves to neutral expressions of ‘sorry’ in the beginning.

    • Catherine Lane Catherine Lane
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      Another important factor to be considered too, Deborah. Legal teams tend to want this type of approach also but it needs to be balanced against what damage will be done if the public see that the ‘sorry’ only comes after prolonged pressure from the media. Sometimes a sorry is all the victims want. It is a delicate balance that needs to be negotiated carefully and I think the ideal situation (if we can ever have one in a crisis) is to have legal and insurance teams that are fully aware of the importance of good and open communication from the outset.

  3. gramnutz
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Chinese Whisper Effect*

    • Catherine Lane Catherine Lane
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Right you are! Will get in there and edit it now

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