Recently, on the premiere airing of The Crisis Show, one of my co-hosts, Jonathan Bernstein, evaluated the five tenets of crisis communications for the current Linkedin security breach crisis, and gave Linkedin a major 5 out of 5 FAIL based on these 5 key crisis communications points.
Thinking that this was a wonderful analysis, as well as a simple way to a) evaluate a company’s crisis communications plan and b) help other companies and organizations to keep these 5 key points in mind when developing their own crisis communications plans, I asked Jonathan to share these five tenets with you, my fabulous readers!
The following is a passage from Jonathan’s book, “Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management”, and should be used to help organize your company or organization’s communications strategy in a crisis.
The Five Tenets of Crisis Communications
“Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management”
By Jonathan Bernstein
The Five Tenets of Crisis Communications
There are general principles upon which you should build your crisis response – both your actions and your messages. I call them the “Five Tenets” and it’s been proven over and over again that they must be the mainstays of your crisis response. For the simple reason that they work.
Your crisis response must be:
1. Prompt. When a sudden crisis breaks that threatens or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation, and/or negatively impact share value, your response must be prompt. A crisis abhors an information vacuum. If you don’t communicate, rumor and innuendo will fill the void.
2. Compassionate. Consider the reality that addressing feelings is often more important, initially, than addressing facts. Yes, you want to get the facts out, but your response should not be totally fact-based. In crises, especially where people have been or could be harmed, your actions and messages must reflect that you actually care. If they don’t, you run the risk of being cast into the league of someone who, say, runs a company that has foiled the environment on a massive scale and destroyed thousands of livelihoods but, “wants his life back” because he’s tired of dealing with the consequences of what his company did. People will forgive you if you screw up, if you show you care that you did and want to make it right. Be compassionate, and communicate that.
3. Honest. Don’t lie by commission, omission, understatement or exaggeration. Be honest in your crisis response. If you’re not, it may not only come back and bite you down the road, it could do so much sooner than you think.
4. Informative. Obviously you don’t want to reveal anything that compromises your legal position. But in your crisis response you must be as informative as you can. In a crisis where people’s lives, safety or security (of any kind) are under threat, they don’t want to see you stonewall. They are scared or concerned. They want answers. They want to know how this crisis affects them. If you don’t tell them, somebody else will, and often they’ll get it completely wrong. So, to the degree you can without jeopardizing your legal position, be forthright with information.
5. Interactive. Meaning allowing two-way communication with all important audiences, using methods most appropriate to each. This is the area where I typically get the most resistance from client companies and organizations. The rationale goes, “We’re telling them what they need to know. What else to they want?” What they want is an opportunity to express themselves. To vent. To offer suggestions. An organization’s crisis doesn’t only happen to the organization; it also happens to its stakeholders. An organization in a crisis that shows it’s willing to listen to its stakeholders takes a major step forward in winning the cooperation and loyalty of those stakeholders.
Some of the biggest and most powerful brands in the world have failed in their crisis communications and the consequences of said failures are extreme and often irreversible. Following these 5 “tenets” within your crisis communications strategy can help you stay above the water and regain control of a crisis in minimum time.
I’m sure you can think of many brands who have failed in one or most of these crisis communications key points, and have seen the consequences and long-term brand and credibility damage that has come along with such a fail. Don’t let that be you! Take the time to evaluate your crisis communications strategy and make sure that, according to these 5 tenets of crisis communications, in a crisis, your company or organization would get a bold and beautiful 5 out of 5!
What areas within these 5 key communications points does your company experience the most struggles? Share your experiences and challenges with me below!
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.