Life is filled with unexpected bad surprises in the form of crises — but it’s important to count on the likelihood they will occur. But, few are properly prepared to handle those dire situations. Whether it’s a corporation, government entity, non-profit or individual, preparing for crisis includes having a plan that involves candor, control, cooperation and cool. Rather than let a crisis be defined in the terms and on the turf of others — including media — it’s most important to take charge of telling your own story, painful as that might seem, or risk being on the permanent defensive.
1. Be prepared. Have a plan.
Before a crisis happens, you need to have a plan to deal with any potential crisis. Identify your crisis team and spokesperson, and train personnel how to handle the crisis. Lack of preparation makes a crisis much worse and more difficult to deal with. No one is immune to a crisis, so you need to be prepared – it’s not if, but when.
2. Get the facts, fast. Tell the truth, never lie.
You need to create an information funnel to control the message. Always tell the truth, never lie. Examples of what NOT to do: politicians like Anthony Weiner and athletes like Lance Armstrong.
3. Break your own bad news. Define the crisis in your own terms on your own turf.
You must get in front of the story and drive the information yourself. You need to publicly say: here is what we know and what we have done about it.
4. No comment = Guilt.
It is important to understand the difference between court of law (presumption of innocence) and court of public opinion (presumption of guilt). Remember to have confidence in your own competence; don’t fall for “circle the wagons” mentality.
5. Communicate with all audiences.
Make sure you communicate with internal audiences, such as employees, shareholders, suppliers and vendors, as well as external audiences, such as customers, the media and the general public. The media operates as an amplifier to most other audiences.
6. Keep the media fed. Early. Regularly. Truthfully.
Make sure you provide regular statements that reflect genuine sensitivity and concern.
7. Don’t be afraid to challenge the media when they get it wrong or are unfair.
If necessary, you should climb higher on the newsroom hierarchy. Even if the error isn’t corrected now, you could lay the foundation for a follow-up story.
8. Take real action steps. Cooperate with authorities. Implement new protocols.
It is important that you communicate steps you’ve taken to all audiences and be able to assure this “never happens again.”
9. Bring in third-party validators.
You should work with outside experts who can evaluate the situation, provide expert advice to best correct any missteps, and implement new protocols and procedures. Make sure you show audiences that you take the crisis seriously.
10. Open a proactive positive track even as you deal with the crisis.
Look for positive news hooks that show movement forward from the crisis. Develop a way to protect your brand’s reputation and focus on the positive rather than the negative.