Dec 17, 2014

Ward recently participated in a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Northwest Environmental Business Council, which brings together environmental, operations and sustainability professionals and aims to give companies the information they need to stay competitive and ahead of the curve. Ward’s panel included colleagues from the PR and legal world in Portland. Their topic: Communicating in a crisis – in particular an environmental crisis.

While much has changed regarding the tools we use for communications (remember when we thought the “net” was a tool for catching fish and fax machines were high-tech?), the fundamentals have changed very little. Regardless of the nature of your crisis – environmental, financial, ethical, legal … take your pick – you can almost always find your way through it by following three basic rules: Act quickly, accept legitimate responsibility, and explain how you’re going to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.

The world of corporate communications is littered with examples of companies that have tried to avoid the legitimate pain of dealing with crises the right way and instead found themselves in a pickle – due less to fallout from their original problem and due more to public outrage over the truth-challenged nature of their initial response. As the Nixon administration taught us, the cover-up is worse than the crime. People can forgive others for making mistakes, but it’s much tougher to ask forgiveness for being less than forthright and honest in the first place.

Mark Twain, never at a loss for the perfectly simple yet wise observation about human nature, once gave those of us who manage business crises a lasting piece of advice: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”