The 10 biggest mistakes in crisis communication

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Every business is vulnerable to crises. Lawsuits, accusations of impropriety, terrorism and other volatile situations make the news each day. When it happens to your business, you will quickly find yourself on trial in the court of public opinion. And how you respond will determine your future.

With that in mind, I have developed the following examples of inappropriate crisis communications policies, culled from real-life situations, to show you what NOT to do when your organization is faced with a crisis.

1. Play ostrich.

Keeping quiet and not responding gives the appearance that you don’t care.

2. Only address a potential crisis after it becomes public.

Waiting until a developing crisis becomes public to address it is a lot like playing ostrich. Whereas if you act before it becomes public, you still have some proactive options available. Otherwise, you will find yourself constantly in a defensive position, providing unprepared, off-the-cuff responses. But don’t go overboard in your proactive approach and decide to issue written statements only. The public will see it as impersonal and may think that you’re hiding something.

3. Let your reputation speak for you.

Martha Stewart recently proved this doesn’t work. Your reputation is yours to keep and theirs to take.

4. Treat the media like the enemy.

Never tell a reporter that you think he/she has done a terrible job of reporting on a topic, or badmouth him/her in a public forum. This will only encourage that reporter to really go after your organization.

5. Get stuck in reaction mode.

A negative story suddenly breaks about your organization. You respond with a statement. There’s a follow-up story. You make another statement. Constantly reacting to what others say makes you look as if you are defending yourself. Instead, look for ways that you can initiate activity that precipitates news coverage, putting you in the driver's seat and letting others react to what you say.

6. Use language your audience doesn’t understand.

Avoid using jargon and acronyms, as the average member of the public will generally respond with “HUH?”

7. Assume that truth will triumph over all.

Just because you have the facts on your side does not mean the American public will eventually come around to your side. And, while you wait for them to learn the facts, keep in mind that perception is just as damaging as reality  — sometimes even more so.

8. Address only issues and ignore feelings.

If you don’t acknowledge what people are feeling, you will never get them to listen to the facts.

9. Treat employees like mushrooms.

Don’t keep your employees in the dark. They interact with people in the community every day. Arm them with the information they need to respond to questions.

10. Do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

The last time you had negative news coverage, you just ignored media calls — perhaps at the advice of legal counsel or simply because you felt that no matter what you said, the media would get it wrong. The result was concern amongst all of your audiences, both internal and external, and the aftermath took quite a while to fade away. Don’t make that same mistake again. 

Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, LLC in Monrovia, Calif., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com



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