In recent days and weeks, a lot of high profile parties have been apologizing. The NFL in the wake of the domestic violence scandal; Dallas’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital amid the Ebola crisis; Microsoft’s CEO comments on equality of pay for women. The best recipe to avoid apologizing? Doing the right thing in the first place. And, if not: having a crisis communications strategy in place and ready to go.
No matter the crisis, no matter the situation, no matter the company, adversity is best managed when dealt with immediately and resolutely. First and foremost, that means having a crisis communications team and plan in place. That team should be nimble and include top management and public relations professionals who are instantly reachable and accessible 24-7. Importantly, any action plan should consider all potential audiences that may be affected and should be communicated to – internally and externally.
Time is always of the essence in issuing reassurances and demonstrating corrective action. Just consider recent predicaments in pro and college sports and questions related to who knew what and when. When handling a crisis, those involved must look ahead and take the long view; putting themselves in others’ shoes and then act in the best interests of their constituents first. Let me provide an example.
In a recent week, Tanner Friedman was retained to handle a crisis related to the criminal behavior of a coach for a local youth sports team. The investigation was well under way when we came on board and would soon lead to formal charges being announced. However, one of the agencies involved in the police matter was not sure when they would be ready to officially announce the matter publicly. Could we wait to make any formal announcements? Our answer: Absolutely not.
As it would not at all compromise police work, our top concern was for the kids and their parents. The coach was immediately dismissed and the parents communicated to virtually same day. Weren’t they owed that? Can you imagine waiting days or weeks until a press conference was held, timed no doubt to pump up the particular official in charge, to make that information known to these fathers and mothers? ‘When did you know?’ ‘Why weren’t we told sooner?’ ‘What action was taken? When?’ Those questions would have been far, wide and loud – and rightly so.
Our client and their legal counsel agreed and acted accordingly and appropriately. And, while the news was painful, the parents appreciated knowing in a timely manner.
In the world of adversity management, tenets of communication you have heard us tout before – honesty, transparency, integrity – are vital in relaying what happened, why and when. They then provide the foundation for rebuilding trust, repairing reputation and living another day.