Lee Ann Monfredini

What I Should Have Said Was…(or Basic Tenets of Crisis Communications)

There’s an aphorism in the communications business that “a crisis is an issue that was handled poorly.” And, in most cases, that’s true. Difficult situations – particularly those where the media lens may be on you or your organization – can often be diffused or even turned into an opportunity if handled in a forthright, credible, timely way.

That said, as with most things in life, having a good plan and thinking through various “What if?” scenarios before they happen is key to not only sleeping at night, but guarding your reputation and relationships.

I like to think of crisis planning for business the same way I do disaster planning at home: That earthquake or hurricane kit you hope you never need – but is ready if and when you do.

So what’s in your Crisis Communications Tool Kit?

First, a designated crisis communications team and their 24/7 contact information. At a minimum, that team should be comprised of a spokesperson, subject matter expert and fact gatherer. “Team” is the operative word.

Second, an up-to-date contact list of key stakeholders who need to be informed about the situation. That means employees, media, civic officials, regulatory agencies, vendors and partners; anyone for whom hearing it from you – versus another party – is critical to your credibility, transparency and reputation. Be sure you’ve thought about the means in which your stakeholders want and need to receive information: Text, email, phone, social media channels, traditional media, and advisories. Know how to reach stakeholders on their terms.

Third, a spokesperson who’s authorized and trained to speak on behalf of you and your organization. Make sure that individual has been through media training, understands the nature of media deadlines and the importance of clear, honest answers. Your spokesperson should have back-up support – someone who’s proficient in monitoring and engaging on social media, and who can post updates to your website in real time. “Tomorrow” is a perilous timeframe in a fast-moving, crisis situation.

Next, basic information and facts about your organization, product or service. You should spend your time focusing on the situation at hand. You don’t want to be hunting for addresses, titles or basic facts and figures when far more critical communication is of the essence. It’s amazing how people will often focus on the mundane as a means of not dealing with the unpleasant or the difficult. But you do so at your peril.

Finally, alignment and agreement on best practices for your organization.

    • Tell the truth.
    • It’s OK to say “I’m sorry,” and “I don’t know.”
    • Never say “No Comment.”
    • Practice your organization’s responses to a variety of potential crises.
    • Identify one spokesperson and a back-up.
    • Ensure your leadership and crisis team understand all relevant policies and procedures.

I sincerely hope you never need your Crisis Communications Tool Kit. But I can guarantee that having one will be to the benefit of your organization – and your own peace of mind.

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Janis MacKenzie

Janis MacKenzie

Janis MacKenzie is president of MacKenzie Communications, Inc., a San Francisco-based marketing communications firm. Since 1983, Janis and her team have helped organizations manage their reputation and relationships with employees, customers, media and government officials. She can be reached at janis@mackenziesf.com.

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