Spiked Articles

Best Practices

Communicating Under Fire: Be There With Tough, Credible Advice

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

Jim Lukaszewski loves bad news. Crisis expert Lukaszewski says that, in a crisis, the communicator, the public relations expert, had better be the one giving the tough, credible advice. He says, ... Don’t let the lawyer be the first to say, “Do nothing," for if that's the initial advice, the planning is, for all practical purposes, over. And certainly don’t let that idea come from the boss; that certainly will end the discussion. Preempt the Lawyer Instead, assure yourself at a table by offering three scenarios:

  • do nothing

  • do something

  • do something more

Be sure you’re the one to bring up inaction as an option, not the lawyer, not the boss. Actually, the “do-nothing” option probably is the best choice more than 50 percent of the time, but if you're the one to bring it up, then it's pretty likely that your other options will at least be discussed and debated. You will have contributed to the group thinking about the situation, rather than simply reacting to it. And you will have assured that you retain your seat at the table where the options are being discussed. The CEO has simple needs. He wants to know what to do next, what’s going to happen next, whether he’ll have to speak, what he must say -- and when he can back away and let someone else take over as spokesperson. Think this through in advance. Have the answers, be ready with the recommendations, and be able to justify your advice. The Critical First Hour The first hour after a crisis is the most important. The more severe the event, the more victims, the more important it is to react, deal with the problem, and solve it quickly. You must communicate with confidence, in real time. Act quickly, even if you make a few mistakes, rather than waiting to plan for perfection. Perfection will never be achieved, and you’re losing valuable time. Non-behavior and non-action prolong the problem and invite unnecessary litigation. The longer you wait, the longer you delay, the larger the damages are likely to be. But you’d better have done your thinking and planning in advance. No Victims, No Crisis What makes it a crisis? Victims. A crisis occurs when people, animals, or living systems are involuntarily adversely affected by some organizational action. If there isn’t life involved or affected, the incident may be important to the organization’s or the chief executive’s well-being, but it isn’t actually a crisis. Human "victims," it turns out, often designate themselves; they also determine when they are no longer victims. It is critical for you to recognize "victim expectations" and respond. Victims don’t hear much beyond their own pain. Good crisis plans are structured to eliminate negative behavior patterns that reinforce victims’ and critics’ concerns. When a crisis hits, this should be the communicator's plan, in a nutshell:

  • Strategic response -- solving the problem

  • Dealing with victims

  • Communicating with employees

  • Communicating with the indirectly affected

  • Dealing with the self-anointed, self-appointed -- those who opt into their situation on their own: media, activists, critics

Keys to Regaining Trust After a defining event, regaining trust is crucial. What is trust? It is the absence of fear. To reduce fear and improve trust and help your credibility in the face of trouble, the marketplace expects seven behaviors:

  • Candor -- What happened, in detail.

  • Explanation -- Why? What you’ve learned. Partial information is better than none. Anyway, you’ll never have complete information.

  • Declaration -- Conclusive remedies to prevent reoccurrence.

  • Contrition -- Continuous verbalization of regret, empathy, and taking appropriate responsibility.

  • Consultation -- Collaboration with those directly affected -- critics, government, employees, victims.

  • Commitment -- Public promise that you’ll do your best to keep similar circumstances from ever happening again.

  • Restitution/penance -- Someone pays the price; investor confidence is restored. Make restitution. Adverse situations remediated quickly cost far less and are controversial for far shorter time periods.

How do you regain public confidence? Actually do what the community expects. The quicker the right steps are taken, the more likely there will be fewer bad feelings, reduced media coverage, and reduced litigation. The most challenging part of crisis communication management is reacting -- with the right response -- quickly. And that requires that you think it all out in advance. Additional information on crisis communications management is available from The Lukaszewski Group Web site at http://www.e911.com.


Join The Discussion

We will never post your email address publicly; it's used solely as part of our verification process to keep the spammers under control. After submitting your comment or question, you'll receive an email confirmation message with a link back to CornerBarPR.com® that you'll need to click before your post appears for others to see. By submitting this post you agree to the CornerBarPR.com Terms Of Service.