Addressing Stress: Averting Disaster with Crisis Communications

April is National Stress Awareness Month. While looking at ways to eliminate  anxiety in our daily lives, consider a major stress management strategy for your company.

Once bad news comes to light — whether it’s a lawsuit, a product defect or an executive’s personal peccadillo — there’s no way to avert unwanted attention and negative publicity.

Smart companies are prepared for all kinds of scary scenarios, from earthquakes to acts of terrorism. To survive a stressful situation with grace and minimize damage to your brand, invest in a crisis communications plan.

A crisis communications plan is like the emergency kit in your car: You may never need it, but if a bad thing happens, you’ll be equipped to overcome adversity.  Successful execution could literally save your reputation and keep your company alive.

Here’s our Survival Guide for the first critical hours of a crisis:

Act Fast

The longer your company waits to respond to a crisis, the more speculation and misinformation there will be. Initial reports will challenge your company’s credibility; public trust is under attack. Don’t count on loyalty, even from your closest allies. Your customers, shareholders and employees will be looking for answers.

In this scenario, silence is not golden. It’s toxic.

Instead, execute your crisis plan to produce a swift, controlled response that provides ongoing communication and access. A well-executed plan minimizes the negative buzz, counters rumors with the facts, and empowers your company with its own flow of information.

Set the Tone

As soon as the crisis goes public, your company will be expected to respond immediately.

If your company refuses to respond or an executive says ’no comment,’ you’ll be perceived as evasive and suspicious. Innuendo will fill the void. With each new tale and theory, recovery will be more difficult to attain.

The early moments of a crisis are critical to public perception of your brand. It’s the best time to establish authenticity and position your company as cooperative, solution-oriented and committed to its stakeholders.

Gather the Tribe & the Facts

As soon as you’re aware, be sure everyone who needs to know about the crisis is informed. Make it a top priority to learn everything you can and develop a plan for resolution.

Your team can help you obtain a comprehensive report. Determine exactly what happened, who is affected, what’s being done to resolve it and how long it may take. This information should encompass all the facts and becomes the foundation for message development and strategic communication.

Social Media

Bad news travels faster online than in any other medium. Twitter and Facebook not only blow up faster than traditional media, their influence keeps growing.

Your online presence provides immediate access to your company.  It also provides a convenient forum for public venting and complaints.  When a crisis hits, social media requires constant attention.

Create Access & Manage Messaging

To address the company’s crisis effectively, you need to generate your own information flow that is centralized, managed, and fact-based.

Your official response to the crisis can go public once you have the necessary facts and a concrete plan for resolution. Key messages need to address both your key stakeholders and the public at large. 

Company employees should know that they are not to discuss the crisis with anyone, especially the media.  Anything that they say will be considered “on the record,” and could jeopardize the company and their own livelihood. Instead, they should direct all queries to approved statements or a designated spokesperson.

Most of us think that a CEO is the logical choice for crisis spokesperson. However, experts recommend the top boss for specific occasions only. Your company may need a spokesperson dedicated to serving as chief liaison for the duration. Find a second senior executive in the organization who is calm, available and able to manage resources effectively.

Own It & Keep It Real

When you’re ready to issue a public statement, tell as much of the truth as you can. Admit responsibility if it’s warranted, and issue an honest and sincere apology if possible.

Assume that in the long run, everything that you know will become public information. So don’t lie, and take your lumps up front. Avoid placing blame on others. Be compassionate about the people most affected by the crisis. Be as transparent as the situation will allow.

While that doesn’t mean you have to disclose everything at once, be sure to share some strategic information about what the company is doing to resolve the problem. And keep updating that information, especially when productive milestones are achieved.


Skip to content