Unfortunately, given the climate in which we live, I must begin this with some disclaimers. This blog entry isn’t a political statement, in any way. This blog entry isn’t an evaluation of whether President Obama said the right things in the right ways in his speech in Tucson last night.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s important to note the Public Relations lesson in last night’s speech. In some ways, political PR couldn’t be any more different from business PR. But, businesses should take a cue from White House strategists when it comes to leadership in crisis.
Multiple Presidential Administrations, from both parties, have set an expectation in America that in times of crisis or adversity, the President plays a role in speaking to the country to set a tone of reassurance, unity and hope. In the modern era, the ability to communicate those anticipated messages is part of a President’s job description. Really, it should also be for the leader of any organization, whether that CEO is elected, hired by a board of directors, a founder of the company or represents the latest generation in a family operation.
Too often, in times when business leadership is needed, those at the top communicate through memos, emails, lawyers or they don’t communicate at all. One thing they should learn from last night is that constituents, including employees, customers, suppliers and neighbors, expect leaders to lead in times when leadership is needed.
In-house communicators who try to “protect” their bosses, agencies that try to “protect” their contracts and lawyers who try to “protect” someone by advising that saying nothing prevents “saying the wrong thing” are doing a severe disservice to companies in crisis. It’s about saying the right thing to the people that want to hear it and leading the way past the adversity into a new period in time.