An industrial explosion with injuries and threats to public safety. Allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior against a top executive. A product recall. Measles exposure at a public retail establishment. What do these have in common? They are all real-world examples of crisis situations that could befall any number of businesses and organizations and result in severe and long-term reputational harm if they are not addressed quickly and professionally.
No one is immune to these types of problems, but the difference between making it through something like this with your reputation intact or suffering a loss of confidence and respect from your customers and stakeholders often rests with how clearly and authentically you communicate during and after the crisis management period. Generally speaking, people forgive mistakes but they do not forgive (or ultimately trust) people who are not accountable and transparent about them.
Having a communications plan and a seasoned crisis manager to help you implement it can help in several ways.
Experienced crisis management firms know what they are doing
First, experience helps. All crises are different but the formula for addressing them is basically the same. Acknowledge the problem, work to resolve it and keep the public informed along the way. Seasoned professionals at crisis management firms have been there many times before and can help you and your team develop and manage a disciplined and orderly communication process to ensure success.
Outside opinions are key to success
Second, an outside PR counselor can provide a fresh set of eyes and is more likely to view the situation as your audience will. Sometimes insiders have an overly sympathetic view of the company or can have a more narrow view of possibilities due to internal politics and policies (e.g. we’ve always done it this way, etc…). Insiders can also assume the public knows a lot more about the organization and the situation than they actually do. Proper crisis management includes an outside expert who is not burdened by this and can often communicate in ways that resonate more effectively with audiences that are relatively uninformed.
Don’t forget about post-crisis crisis management
Finally, pros from seasoned crisis management firms know that once the immediate crisis is over, there may be work left to do. No one suffers a significant crisis without some damage to their reputation. Understanding that reality and coming up with ways to rebuild your reputation after the fact is something a professional should be able to help you through.
Bad things can happen to anyone. Whether they end up on your tombstone or are just a faint memory is often determined by how timely, clearly and authentically you communicate.