How to handle the media in a crisis

So you’ve let down your customers – now what?

It’s every business owner’s nightmare but let’s assume for a few minutes that due to a combination of factors you’ve disappointed your customers.

Badly.

Thousands of them.

Assume your hugely popular super-widgets have been recalled and it looks likely that you’ll have to fully refund your customers. The lawyers are urging extreme caution about public pronouncements– as lawyers always do.

It’s going to take some time to discover exactly who is to blame for the recall but given the complex nature of the manufacturing process and the number and locations of key players, maybe months.

The news breaks on twitter and social media is ablaze with negative comments about your company (#greatsuperwidgets) and reporters are banging at your door for an explanation of why things have gone so badly wrong and what you’re going to do about it.

“We’ve launched an investigation and will be holding a news conference later today”.

You’re being urged to respond as quickly as possible as news stories have already started to appear with a blank space where your side of the story should be.

Well, at least you didn’t say “No comment”.

So the first, the most important and often the most difficult decision has now been made – you’ve acknowledged that it’s not just a thorny issue you’re tangled up in, or a bad situation – yes, you’re in a crisis.

Into the breach

Every crisis is different and there is NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL solution to each dilemma but if you already have a robust crisis communications strategy at your fingertips then at least you stand a chance of emerging from the crisis in reasonable health having successfully weathered the storm, battered but still-standing (which is better than down-and-out and defeated).

Depending on the nature of the crisis – and things are seldom as simple as they seem at first – surely you should know early on what your priorities are?

There are some useful principles that apply to most crises:-

  • The health and well-being of your customers and your staff (and of course the wider public) should always be paramount – most organisations understand this but in the heat of a firestorm it is easy to become distracted, whatever your track record and whatever the depth of your integrity and those of your staff and colleagues.
  • Remind yourself regularly that your main aim should not be to protect the reputation of individuals in your organisation. Although it would be naive to think that in the real world someone’s status is not important it should never be the driver when getting to the bottom of an issue – your corporate reputation is more important than any one person or group of people.
  • A crisis is not the time to adopt a consensual approach to the key decisions. You must be prepared to see them through and not drop them when the media scrutiny dies down or the social media firestorm has moved elsewhere.
  • This is an occasion that requires leadership with a capital ‘L’ — from someone who can issue reliable, informative messages which are clear to customers, staff, stakeholders, partner organisations and the wider public.

The nightmare’s over

So let’s fast-forward to the real world, the here and now, as you’re reading this today.

Are all members of your team sufficiently trained about their individual and collective responsibilities when a crisis hits to prevent longer term damage to your brand reputation? Are the three principles above ingrained in their DNA?

If the answer to this is ‘probably’ or ‘maybe’ then you might want to think about revisiting it and talking it through with your team.

We at Mickord.com will be happy to work with you to produce or update a comms plan so that it’s fit for purpose.

We’d be happy to put your team to the test via high-intensity mock-news exercises specifically geared to your company’s needs.

We’ll stretch-test your teams and ensure that you’re as geared up as possible to get the best out of your staff so that your brand stands up to the pressure during a real-life problem so that it doesn’t necessarily evolve into a crisis.

Just because it’s not a full-blown disaster, you still need to deal with “it”.

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