Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Year Ahead in Crisis Comms

In the coming year, we will see companies in crisis. The companies that do well will have prepared for a crisis. Not necessarily the one with which they have to deal, but prepared nonetheless. The companies that do poorly, the ones many of my fellow crisis bloggers and I will write about, will have understood that a crisis can strike, but chose to not prepare. Here are a few mistakes we're likely to see in 2013.

Siege Mentality
You can tell a company that has succumbed to a siege mentality when they respond with "no comment" when asked about the disaster du jour. Even though "no comment" = "guilty" in the public's mind and has been that way since the 1970s, you will still see "professional" communicators using that phrase. When they do, their story moves on without them. Crisis response is not for the faint of heart. Ensure your bosses know what and how you will communicate in a crisis. The less they are surprised, the less likely they are to head to the bunker to ride the storm out.

Lack of Compassion
When you're in a bunker waiting for the storm to pass it is easy to miss the people suffering. All crises are human events, and companies that ignore the human element are doomed to failure. The companies that fail ignore those they've hurt. Their reputations will suffer in direct proportion to the degree to which they ignore human suffering.

Rely on Old Media
We are living in a time when a serious corporate crisis can have a beginning, middle and end on social media. Traditional media are stretched to the limit and a good part of the world gets news from friends through social networks. The companies that focus on traditional TV, radio and print will miss the chance to talk directly to the stakeholders that matter most in an adverse event. Best to have a plan to monitor and engage across multiple networks and platforms. Test it before a crisis so you know it works.

Saying Something Stupid and Being Stunned at its Disclosure

It is not surprising that human beings stick a foot in their mouths when things are going badly. Those that make the worst gaffes are those that likely have had the least training. The stress of a crisis leads them to make silly mistakes that will overwhelm anything positive the company has done to respond to the disaster. Way back in the 1990s, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that "once I commit something to paper, I consider it compromised." That's about 20 years ago, before the Internet, before social media and before YouTube. Don't let down your guard. If you don't want something disclosed, don't say it.

In my best case scenario, As we begin the New Year, I wish you a crisis-free 2013. Since best case scenarios are as common a Chicago Cubs World Series victory, I wish you a successful response so that you don't endure the crisis only to be an object lesson for others.

Bill Salvin

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