Effective Crisis Management Means Sweating the Small Stuff

The phone rings and you pick it up to answer the call you never want to get. Your organization has a full-blown Instant Crisis.

Crisis Communications

There is the danger of permanently damaging your brand if you don’t manage the crisis communications effectively. Every company should research and understand the threats its faces and plan accordingly.

Emergency Response Plan

Your organization should have an emergency response plan in place for the three crises that occur most often – the Instant Crisis, an Act of God, and a Brewing Crisis. The plan must include crisis communications. No matter the crisis, it’s essential to be on top of every detail by sweating the small stuff that can come back to bite you if not handled correctly.

The Instant Crisis

In this post we’ll discuss how to manage communications for the Instant Crisis. An example of an Instant Crisis is a crane toppling over, as occurred in New York City, killing several people. Another is the current consumer uprising over Bank of America’s planned debit card fee.

Responding to the Media

The CEO of a company is the executive the public most wants to hear from when the crisis first strikes. He needs to show his concern and compassion for potential victims or angry customers, and to reassure the public that he is mobilizing the resources to mitigate the crisis.

Just recently, Bank of America was hit with an Instant Crisis when it announced a $5 monthly fee for customers using debit cards, which stirred up a storm of customer protests. Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America Corp., and his PR staff refused to respond to press calls.

ABC-TV network news sent a reporter to intercept him and conduct an ambush interview that was aired that evening on national television. Here is the interview with Mr. Moynihan stumbling through his answers, which further incensed BofA customers:

As an Instant Crisis unfolds, another executive will become the company’s main spokesperson for customers and the media. This executive – usually from the public relations department or possibly a plant manager – needs crisis communications training to learn how to take control of the situation. The press will be all over the crisis and only the designated spokesperson should be allowed to speak for the company.

Bank of America violated all the basic rules of crisis communications which are:

  • Act quickly. Hold a press conference with the CEO presiding and have company experts, who have been media trained, in attendance to answer technical questions. It’s unlikely you’ll have all the facts right away. If you don’t know the answer to a question don’t wing it. Tell reporters you will find out and get back to them.
  • Get out all the bad news at once. Many companies make the strategic mistake of dribbling out the news, allowing rumors to fly and the media to make unfounded accusations. You cannot hide behind “no comment.” Transparency is key. A good response is, “What we can tell you at this time is….”
  • Issue immediate updates. A crisis is like a moving target. If there is a new development issue a statement immediately.
  • Leverage social media. With legal’s input and approval, consider establishing a unique Facebook page and Twitter handle for instant updates. Use a hash tag (such as #craneupdate) for reporters to follow. Create a page on the organization’s website with ongoing reports about how it is handling the crisis. Monitor what is being said in online and offline media and respond quickly with correct information.
  • Keep employees informed. Don’t forget your employees, who have been advised not to talk to anyone outside the company about the crisis. Be sure to keep them updated, too, to head off unfounded rumors.

Most important, be truthful in all your communications. Be humane in how you describe victims of the crisis, like those killed in the crane accident. Don’t engage in the “blame game” in public. Let the lawyers handle their end of the crisis behind closed doors.

It is not easy to solve a crisis that drops in your lap without warning. But by following the basic rules of crisis management, you and your company will earn the respect of your employees and customers, the media and those people who were adversely impacted by the crisis.

We’d welcome hearing from you with your tips about crisis planning and with stories you’d like share about how you solved a crisis. Just use the comment box below. In our next post, we will discuss the Act of God crisis.

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