Last night I had a dream of consulting a prominent Utah CEO regarding a current crisis situation. Hence, it’s on my mind this morning. As we launch into a new year, we hear “year-in-review” reports of crisis after crisis endured during the past year.
During the coming year, mark my word, we will be snowed under with doomsday speculation about the 2012 December deadline for the Mayan Calendar. Regardless of apocalyptic hyperventilation, crisis hits companies and the news daily. As a CEO, you are wise to consider the crisis ahead before it happens. The best way to mitigate bad company news is to prepare in advance. It’s the old “pay me now, or pay me later ” message or “an ounce of prevention…”
A few years ago, the Crandall Canyon Mine crisis and the company’s CEO, Robert “Bob” Murray, have riveted media viewers/readers across the country on the plight of six miners trapped underground. FlackLife, Rockford Gray, USCHO and the Moderate Voice are examples of bloggers chiming in. We all are hoping for the best and bracing for potentially tragic news for the families of the six missing miners. Much has been said regarding Mr. Murray’s handling of press relations during this crisis and perhaps when our hearts heal from this tragedy Crandall Canyon will become a case study for PR students to learn how to better plan for and handle crisis communications.
For corporate leaders in the boardroom seeking to better prepare for crisis communications, perhaps some tips would be helpful.
Create a Plan – it’s usually better to be proactive, than reactive. Before the crisis hits have a written communications plan that clearly assigns responsibility, accounts for media deadlines, and has total agreement among key management. Running a simulated crisis scenario can help work out kinks in the plan. This is especially important for companies that offer services impacting large numbers of people or that perform work that is potentially dangerous.
Appoint One Spokesperson – usually a top executive, this should be an individual who engenders trust and who has authority to speak for the company.
Communicate Quickly, Thoroughly and Frequently – from a pre-arranged location provide access to vital crisis information. Who, What, Why, How, and When should be answered as quickly as facts become available. A constant flow of information to the media will mitigate the reporters’ tendency to fill in story gaps with inaccurate information or questionable sources. Provide the chain of events, graphics, data, and independent third party experts as quickly as they become available.
Focus on People – every media interview or press conference should begin with a focus on the human component of any tragedy. Location of those impacted, services for family members, and efforts to find survivors should be covered before other subjects are discussed.
Be Accessible – Be Transparent – Stick to the Facts – members of the media have a job to do. The vast majority of reporters and editors seek to get the story right. Work with them around their deadlines and communicate often regarding the crisis. When tough questions are asked, stay cool. Be as open as possible to avoid looking guilty. Provide the facts and encourage continued dialogue to fill in gaps in the story. Focus on what is being done to help people impacted by the crisis. Avoid speculation or assigning blame, especially in the early days after a crisis. This keeps the focus on the human component and away from rushing to judgment. Credibility during crisis is a fragile thing. Avoid rejection of alternative opinions or experts which can easily backfire.Share