It’s not a nice position to be in, but handled well, you can navigate the muddy waters of crisis communications.
It’s when a reporter picks up a story that could negatively impact you or the business’s reputation.
So, it may be they’ve got wind of a big deal that’s controversial, or some sort of scandal – the CEO is in a big divorce case because she’s ditched her husband of 25 years for the apprentice, for example.
It may be that one of your staff has caused the crisis – Tesco had one of these recently. Two staff were seen having a lovely time in an office by colleagues who filmed it all and posted it online, naming the supermarket and the people involved. Tesco is a big company that can take the hit but yours might not be – you will be remembered as the company where the randy workers were at it!
When a crisis happens, you need to think about what you say, who you say it to and when you say it. You need to get the facts and ensure you are consistent and informed.
When something happens, you’ll be in a panic because of the situation so you need to step back, gather the facts and think carefully about what you are going to say – for reputational reasons and liability.
Prosecutors can use media coverage in court – they did with Ian Huntley when he murdered the two little girls in Soham.
The next thing you need to do is call me…because I’ve batted off all sorts during my time as a police press officer at all times of the day and night when things have gone wrong.
If someone’s been hurt, say sorry – and mean it (see my Richard Branson example below).
You don’t go on the defensive or look for blame.
Your first statement should include that you’re sorry, literally, hands up in the air and that you’re co-operating to find out what’s happened and will comment further when you can.
Saying sorry isn’t admitting liability – you’re sorry for them, not to them.
I can’t tell you how many stories at the police I turned into nothings when I got the facts and realised they were talking hearsay! So many front page stories evaporated in hours!
It’s short and sweet. What also helps journalists not turn against you is being helpful – which you won’t feel like doing, but believe me, it’s worth it.
News, views and loos…
Just by letting them film outside your HQ, offering them a drink or use of your facilities goes a long way. We call it New, Views and Loos in crisis comms and if reporters have these three things easily, the rough ride will be that little bit smoother.
Crisis Comms done well – Richard Branson (of course!)
My favourite example of crisis communications handled well is Richard Branson, in 2007 after one of his Virgin trains crashed in Cumbria. He flew straight to the scene, cutting short his holiday made a press call and gave a very moving piece to camera from the heart. It was clear to see that he was emotionally affected – he knew by this time that someone had died and the driver, whose name he had found out already, had a broken neck. A further 86 people were injured – some critically, which he would have had an idea about. It wasn’t scripted and it followed the rules of good crisis comms – empathy was his first message, then he tells us it could have been worse, then he bats off questions from reporters drawing him into the blame game. His main point is that it’s a sad day, people have been injured and the priority is those people above all else. He ends by saying it mustn’t ever happen again.
You can see it here – take note!
Add my number to your phone – you never know when you might need it!