By Patrice Cloutier
We are frequently reminded that the art of crisis communications and crisis management is a tough one to master. From Target, to General Motors and Donald Sterling, we have many examples of how NOT to do it. Some people do it right in a crisis. When they do, it pays dividends and their reputation is enhanced.
So, let’s look at what to avoid when confronted with a crisis. (Notice how I didn’t say “if” but “when”, because it will happen). Here’s a list of the “seven deadly sins” to look out for:
7 Deadly Sins of Crisis (Mis)Management
- Ignore the crisis … It’ll go away right? Today, speed is everything. Organizations facing a crisis must move fast and own up. They need to break the news, occupy the public space and avoid being put on the defensive. If you’re cyber-security gets breached, don’t wait a week to announced it. You’ll lose trust and become a “target” for those who point to corporate secrecy.
- Obfuscate and lie, your stakeholders won’t know the difference. How could they? Oh, okay, our data breach only affected 40 million customers (a few weeks later …) Oh wait ! It was 70 million of our customers who are at risk. Tell the whole truth, right away. If you fail again, say so. It worked for Maple Leaf Foods’ Michael McCain following the first listeria outbreak.
- Don’t train your people (or the boss). Why would you need to? Anyone can talk to reporters, especially in a stressful situation. Let’s say your company is being blamed for a train derailment that killed dozens and devastated a whole town. So the boss decides to visit the town (after throwing his own employees under the bus and blaming firefighters) – an assured success right? Especially after avoiding the press for days.
- Don’t deal with the right audiences. So a passenger on one of your planes films the baggage handling crew taking liberties with luggage, and so what when it hits Youtube and social networks. It’s all over the place but you decide that you’ll just answer people and reporters who contact you directly, and leave the public space unoccupied for hours if not days. A winning strategy to appear clueless even though you might be doing all the right things behind the scene.
- Don’t be prepared … I mean, what could go wrong if we haven’t tested our crisis comms plan in years? We’ll make it up as we go along. Besides, relying on untrained spokespersons, relying on an untested plan is almost as bad as having none at all. We’ll be able to sort through the issues because we’re smart. We can deal with the media and ongoing pressure from our clients … no sweat!
- Being unfocused. We can all stick to routine since it’s time for business-as-usual – even in a crisis – because we’re super-managers and executives! Recognizing your organization is facing a crisis and devoting the resources and attention to set things straight is NOT a sign of weakness. Although avoiding crises altogether is a better solution, taking early steps to deal with it with the right people, the right tools and the right strategy is a sign of strength. Trying to do too much during a crisis and not focusing on the issue at hand might be catastrophic.
- Don’t really apologize. I mean we’re not that sorry. It wasn’t our fault. People will forgive many things IF you appear to be sincere and remorseful. Offering conditional apologies and making excuses only antagonizes your audiences more. The formula is so simple though: we’re sorry, we apologize to those who were harmed by our actions and/or words, and we’re working hard to fix the issue so that it doesn’t happen again – and then show that you mean what you say by putting your words into actions.
Patrice Cloutier is currently Team Lead for strategic communications in the Communications Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. As such, he plays a key role in the planning and delivery of emergency information at the provincial level and in crisis communications planning. Patrice spent close to 10 years as a reporter and broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada and as a freelance journalist. He’s an avid blogger and social media enthusiast. Connect with Patrice on Twitter.
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