Making Crisis Communications Stick

Beyond tactical and operational preparedness, crisis communication should be at the core of crisis management. Crises come unexpectedly in different forms and from various angles, hence, what you say and how you say it are crucial in working towards a solution.

Corporate crisis communication starts long before an actual crisis breaks. This strategy is withdrawing goodwill invested over time. Build and nourish strong relationships with key media to support you in establishing a reputation of stability, integrity, strength, and social awareness. However, the strategies and stages of PR won’t all fit here so, for now, let’s discuss media holding statement templates one should have in their crisis communications checklist.

For any type of crisis:

  • Stick to your prepared statement. Chuck Rossie said it best: “The primary rule of crisis communications is that stress makes you stupid.” So, stick to your issued statement and assure the media that you will get back to them on other matters once all the facts have been sorted out.
  • Choose your words carefully. You do not want the legal department snatching the microphone from you mid-interview. Again, stick to the pre-approved, legally-insulated statement and resist the impulse to bite at every question thrown at you.
  • Assure shareholders of a swift and honest investigation. An investigation on why, how, and who’s responsible is important to keep shareholders from running for the hills. It shows that leadership is still in control.
  • Promise it won’t happen again. It’s also important to note that steps are being taken to prevent another incident from occurring in the future.

Accidents or terrorist attack:

  • Show empathy. Let the public know that you share their grief. Nothing’s worse than mechanical, factual rattling off of facts that only add stress to volatile climate.
  • Emphasize involvement of authorities. Inform everyone that you are cooperating fully with authorities in the investigations being conducted.

In case of a scandal:

  • Be transparent. This is particularly essential in financial scandals, when you’ve got people already crying “scumbags!” Show that you’ve got nothing to hide by acknowledging the existence of a problem. Denial is not a river in Egypt.

Your frontliners, managers, and, of course, communications team should be ready from the get go to comply with crisis protocols. Public opinion is greatly influenced by your first sound bite. Similarly, people perceive your “No comment” as: (a) “We haven’t the faintest clue on what’s going on,” (b) “I can’t talk when my head is about to roll,” or worse, (c) “We don’t care”—sentiments likely heard before a downward spiral.

An official spokesperson trained for crisis management is a master stroke. Singapore’s SBS Transit either didn’t have one or did not think it necessary. They told a family member of a victim who died after being hit by an SBS bus to “submit a proposal to management” for her request to shoulder funeral expenses. Travesty on so many levels! Although SBS Transit has since issued a statement that they have agreed to the request, it’s a case of too little, too late.