Crisis communications – learn from others’ mistakes

Most organizations’ worst fear is being thrust in the media spotlight due a crisis. For some this could be a board member resigning while for others it could be a cruise ship hitting a reef. Whatever the size or scope of the crisis, the basics on how to respond are similar.

When developing crisis communications plans, I always recommend to clients they pay attention to events in the news to see how organizations handle their crisis. After all, it’s much easier to be an armchair quarterback and learn lessons from the safety of your office without having to defend the reputation of your organization.

Here are some crisis communications basics to look for when evaluating an organization’s response.

Get out early – Even if you have little to say, make it clear who the spokesperson is and that he/she is available. If you don’t do this, others will fill the void (likely less reputable people).

Be open, honest and transparent – There is no such thing as a spin doctor. Don’t try to manipulate the media. They will see through it and you will lose any credibility.

Provide regular updates – This shows you are on top of the situation – even when you have little to say. It also shows a commitment to sharing information.

Don’t hold back information – It will all come out eventually, and it delaying release often makes things worse (think of Bill Clinton denying he had sexual relations only to admit his involvement with Monica Lewinsky six months later).

Keep your stakeholders informed – Provide regular updates so they aren’t getting their information from the media. And be prepared for these updates to be made public.

Social media is your friend – Facebook and Twitter are major sources of information during a crisis (not to mention blogs, online news…) Update your social media sites often and engage in conversation with your audience.

Being an armchair quarterback isn’t such a bad thing if you take the time and relate the lessons (and criticisms) to your own organization.