That last one is important — a crisis can damage your reputation if there is a perception of wrongdoing or negligence — even if there was none.
Communications is the only way to prevent this.
My experience across journalism and emergency services has taught me this repeatedly.
At a newspaper, bad news lasts a day, but perceived lies or a scandal last a week.
If someone looks to be squirming away from accountability — whether they are or not — people will keep watching, arguing and attacking until the situation resolves. An apology, admission or pragmatic statement of inadvertent fault, however, sucks the heat of people’s interest faster than you can change channel.
At emergency services, when disaster struck, I learned the importance of speaking up instantly — even if just to say, “we don’t know what’s happening yet, but we will let you know soon”. Because it was clear that if we took our time to get all our facts perfectly straight, people just saw silence and assumed we were asleep at the wheel.
In times of crisis, disaster, tragedy or scandal, people seek out villains and victims.
So, you must respond well. You must respond quickly. You must respond.
It’s all about having a plan. That’s how you unlock the ability to speak quickly and with confidence.
But your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. It’s about thinking through the logistics while everyone is calm and collected. Otherwise, you’ll freak out when stuff goes bad.
Your plan should include:
- A risk register of anticipated issues, sorted by severity.
- A quick summary of how you will address these major crises.
- Who will talk to who: A map of who needs to talk, who needs to be notified and how does it happen?
- Any pre-prepared messaging or holding statements you can use.
And one ultimate tip — if your crisis involves humans, and most do in some way, you must show empathy. Your response should be about them, not about you.