Some executives labor under the impression that communications experts can make a crisis go away. Would that it were true.
While it’s nice to feel such confidence in our abilities, neither I nor any of my colleagues have a magic wand capable of such illusion. Oh, we may be able to help minimize its impact, depending on the precise situation, by hammering out a clear message and offering guidance on how to deliver it. But sending it into oblivion? Not going to happen.
Getting Your CEO to See the Light
This can prove especially vexing for internal staff who, in many cases, don’t have the heft to sit the boss down and speak the unvarnished truth. After all, they probably like having a job, and challenging the big kahuna can place one’s immediate employment prospects on shaky ground.
The fact remains that sometimes our job involves managing expectations and getting executives to see the real world picture.
The midst of a crisis is not the time for detailed planning efforts, which means that you need to prepare and rehearse your crisis communications plan in advance. What are some methods for opening your boss’ eyes that you can arrange ahead of time?
- Bring evidence to bear from similar crises. Keep a file on crisis situations in the news that touches on situations you might anticipate. When your calamity strikes, quickly pull out the ones that most closely parallel your current plight.
- Actively involve your top brass in your crisis messaging efforts. Teach them that your message will evolve rapidly as new developments come to light. Be ready for some long hours and intense discussions. Note that this is one instance where you need to bring in the lawyers for messaging purposes since legal issues may well be involved. However, please don’t give your legal eagles veto power over your message. Their job is to keep you out of trouble from the law. They are not necessarily experts in arguing in the court of public opinion.
- Find a peer of theirs who can talk sense into them. It’s a good idea to keep these helpers on your speed dial. Develop relationships with their communications staffers so that you can both encourage occasional conversations about communications successes and challenges. When crisis hits, use that leverage.
- Prepare your spokespeople. Yes, you should run them through an emergency media training refresher. You should also insist that all your spokespeople routinely participate in an ongoing media training program. If you wait until the crisis manifests itself, you lose.
- Get your executives’ insights into likely allies and adversaries. The more public support you can muster, and the better you can anticipate where attacks will originate, the higher the likelihood of navigating your crisis with fewer negative consequences.
- Hire a consultant with broader view who can speak truth to your executives. Experienced consultants won’t shy away from working through the tough issues.
Saying You’re Sorry
Some executives believe that a crisis demands an apology. Others would never dream of saying they are remorseful for anything.
Similarly, some communications consultants swear that apology is necessary in every instance. This is largely the old school approach where everything fit neatly into a trite crisis response format.
Other communicators argue that an apology needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, online sniping about this “to apologize or not to apologize” difference of opinion is easy to unearth. I come down on the side of the latter camp since every situation is different and demands a unique response.
Easing the Impact
Your company is not likely to emerge from a crisis unscathed. Your reputation and your revenues may take a hit, and you need to make the head-in-the-sand boss understand that. Sound crisis management works to lessen the shock. But making it go away? Sorry, not going to happen.