When a Crisis Happens, Own It or Someone Else Will

If your company is lucky, it will never have to face a crisis situation. But, as they say, stuff happens. So that means you need to be prepared to act in the event of an emergency that has the potential to impact your customers and your company reputation.

The Triple T’s

First and foremost, the key to dealing with a crisis is to take control of the situation. And that means you need to be available and transparent in your communication activities — both inside and outside your company. A good rule of thumb for disaster communication is to follow the Triple T method:

  • Tell it all — explain the facts about what happened, don’t speculate
  • Tell it fast — get your message out quickly and often
  • Tell the truth — don’t lie or be evasive

But before you tackle the Triple T, you need to make sure you’re positioned to address the disaster when it happens.

Have a Crisis Communication Team Ready

This team should include your CEO and other senior leaders such as the top PR person, and the top people from the area of the company that is affected by the crisis. These people should be available to be rallied within a short time after the disaster has occurred so a first message can be delivered about how the company is responding to the crisis.

Assign roles to your team members so activities are coordinated. Three main roles to be assigned are:

  • Main spokesperson – This person will be the center of communication delivery. They should be comfortable talking with the press, able to speak without using a lot of company jargon and be able to establish credibility with customers and employees.
  • Back up spokesperson – This person will step in if the main spokesperson is unavailable. They need to have the same skills and abilities as the main spokesperson in case they have to take over.
  • Technical expert or advisor – The person who fills this role will depend on the crisis situation. For example it might be the CIO if the crisis is related to an information technology function or the division manager of product development if that’s where the crisis has occurred. You’ll need to be able to tap into this person quickly during a crisis, so make sure your company keeps contact lists up to date.

You’ll also want to set up an information hub — like a special page on your website — where you can direct everyone for information about the situation.

Never forget that if you don’t fill the space with communication, other people will.

Get Your First Communication Out the Door Quickly

Don’t let your team fiddle around and try to perfect the first message about the crisis. Never forget that if you don’t fill the space with communication, other people will. And that means irreparable damage could be done to your company in the process.

So get the first message prepared and on its way quickly. It should include at a minimum — who, what, when and where — details about the situation. And don’t forget to include information about when and where you will provide your next (and regular) updates.

Technology makes this easy for you. You can get the message out quickly to many channels at the same time. Your message should be sent out to media organizations via email, posted on your company blog, updated on your Facebook page and tweeted on Twitter. If you own or participate in industry forums, post it there too.

Remember: People Do Business With People

Never forget that you are dealing with people during your crisis response. Even if your product or service is business to business, there is a person (or many) at that business who is affected by what has happened. The crisis may actually be putting them out of business. You can bet the situation will be emotional, particularly if it lasts an extended period of time. Make sure you acknowledge the emotions and provide regular updates.

And don’t forget about your employees. Remember they have a vested interest in the crisis being resolved too. They should not have to read the front page of the newspaper to find out what’s going on. Use your internal communication channels to keep them updated about the situation and progress you are making. They can be one of your best links to your customers.

What other suggestions do you have about responding to a crisis?

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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