Over the years, I have observed that many places (and businesses) may invest heavily in establishing their identities, but are often ill-prepared when a crisis occurs. As we've recently seen, bad things do happen to good places, with floods, blizzards, earthquakes, riots and other dramatic events.
Not long ago I sat down with my friend Peggy Bendel of Bendel Communications International who has decades of experience assisting places around the world to manage their reputations, even in times of crisis. Her counsel has been sought for crises as diverse as Hurrican Hugo, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, SARS, H1N1 Virus and South Africa in 1993 into the Mandela era. Peggy provided ten points for leaders to consider when confronted with a crisis.
- Don't panic…and don't appear panicked in front of staff or the media.
- Gather your team and launch your crisis plan (you do have one, don't you?)
- Identify the real crisis, the one you can do something about - and there may be many competing for that honor.
- Be proactive, and therefore in control of the message. If the media can't get an answer from you, they will find another source and you might not agree with their choice.
- NEVER lie or dissemble. It's the end of your credibility.
- Issue a preliminary statement to the media, in person and/or via traditional and social media.
- Make the power of the Internet and social media work for you. Review your website/online media room and make any appropriate changes (and ongoing updates) promptly. It can be one of your most valuable tools, or your downfall.
- Throughout the crisis period, have a spokesperson available to the media, ideally the same person each day.
- Monitor broadcast, print and on-line/social media coverage continually. Correct factual errors promptly and calmly.
- When things have calmed down, take time to update your crisis communications plan NOW, so you’re ready for the NEXT crisis!