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Crisis Communications

Over the past year, we have had multiple clients endure significant crisis in their organizations. Just last month, we were brought into an urgent crisis situation for a brand new client. The best made plans can go awry. The people most dedicated to an organization might steal. One tweet from an employee can send social media into a spiral. Systems can break down. Technology can disappoint, and at the most inopportune times. The best defense is a good offense. Are you ready?

Given my past experience in incredibly tough situations with our clients, along with my years in politics (where nearly everything is crisis), I have developed a list of dos and don’ts on how to handle a crisis. Here you go….

Do:

  • Understand that unless it's a matter of life or death, then it’s not as bad as you think.
  • Call your lawyer. Don’t say, write, email, or even think about saying anything to anyone until you have legal counsel guiding your words.
  • Call in communications experts. Even if you have a strong internal communications team, you will want outside guidance. You and your leadership team are too close to the situation and too sensitive. You need someone without bias and with a clear head leading your communications strategy.
  • Know that crow is best eaten warm. Own the issue, take responsibility and pivot forward.
  • Know that people are quick to forgive and much more gracious than you will anticipate.
  • The Golden Rule can take you far in life. Treat others as you expect to be treated and the situation will more easily resolve.
  • Make a list of the people who need to hear from you (or the CEO if that’s not you) and prioritize. Board members, investors, employees and customers. Develop your talking points (with the expert you have already called…see above) and get on the phone. Now. Time is money. Communicate and keep communicating.
  • Solve the problem. Take the necessary steps and make the hard decisions so that the problem does not happen again.

Don’t:

  • Don’t let your lawyer’s guidance override the PR strategies and messaging that must go hand in hand with your legal counsel’s wisdom, so that you don’t recover from a legal perspective and die in the court of public opinion.
  • Don't let anyone who was part of the problem guide the plan toward a solution. Whether intentional or not, their advice will be about them and not about the greater good of the organization.
  • Don't shoot from the hip. Get a message in place. Get a list of stakeholders in place. Get on the phone with those people, with those messages and move forward.
  • Don't lie. Don't mislead. Don't tell a half truth or say anything that will only require more explanation.
  • Don't delay. You have a short window when people will be willing to forgive as long as they see the problem being handled and they are receiving communication regularly.

Remember, if you are going through hell then keep on going. It’s the only way to reach the other side. If you are in a hole, stop digging and put down the shovel.

Call your lawyer. Call JHL. We are here to help.