When a large corporation like Exxon has a sudden crisis that could threaten the future of the company, such as the Valdez oil spill, they immediately bring in the big guns – top PR consulting firms that specialize in crisis management.
But what if your client or employer is a small company that can’t afford the big guns, you are not a crisis management specialist, and the CEO calls you screaming because one of his delivery truck drivers was drinking on the job and ran a red light totaling the car of another driver?
Although crisis management is not your area of specialty, there are a few basic guidelines that you can follow that will assure the best recovery possible, a very happy CEO, and who knows, maybe even a raise.
The Most Important Rule – First, Last, and Always
The first and most important rule in crisis management is this: whatever you do, do it quickly, honestly, and completely!
Act Quickly – The worst thing you can do when a crisis hits is to say nothing. While you are hiding, the media, your adversaries, and the public in general are coming to their own conclusions – usually unfavorable to your client. Within one hour of being notified of the crisis you should have your team assembled. You then start asking questions1:
- Exactly what happened?
- Who and what in the company are affected?
- Who, if anyone, is injured or killed?
- What is the condition of the injured?
- Are emergency personnel on the scene?
- What details do you need to know?
- Who else needs to be contacted?
Honestly – Almost as bad as silence is deceit. For many journalists, your little white lie could be their big break. If you are discovered misleading them once, they will never trust you again. Even if you unknowingly give them false information, the media is like elephants – they never forget.
Completely – You will need to confer with your client’s legal counsel, but be very careful about deliberately leaving out important facts. Just like not saying anything or not being honest, certain entities will jump on anything you omit. This can be a delicate situation because you must carefully guard any issues of confidentiality.
Keeping Your Team Informed
Once you put your plan into action, but sure to keep your crisis management team informed early and often. Depending on the type of crises, you will want to issue a crisis report to your team every two or three hours.
Lynne Bliss in her FabJob guide to PR suggests that an initial report should include the following:
- A summary of the event and the initial reactions
- The details of any injuries, how serious they are and the details surrounding them
- Notifying all relevant parties such as family
- A list of any damaged or affected property
- Information from the appropriate insurance companies
- Recommendations provided by emergency personnel
When a disaster strikes an organization, the crisis management team becomes paramount. How quickly, honestly, and completely the team responds can determine the future success or failure of that organization.