All organizations are vulnerable to crises. Disasters, lawsuits, accusations of impropriety, sudden changes in ownership or management, and other volatile situations will happen. The threat of serious damage to people, property, reputation is real for virtually any organization, and many individuals as well.
The cheapest way to turn experience into future profits is to learn from others’ mistakes. With that in mind, I hope that the following examples of inappropriate crisis communications policies, culled from real-life situations, will provide a tongue-in-cheek guide to the mistakes you must avoid when your organization is faced with a crisis.
If you want your crisis to quickly spiral out of control you should employ any combination of these wrong-way tactics:
- Play Ostrich. What Lance Armstrong did for years. Hope that no one learns about it. Cater to whoever is advising you to say nothing, do nothing. Assume you’ll have time to react when and if necessary, with little or no preparation time. And while you’re playing ostrich, with your head buried firmly in the sand, don’t think about the part that’s still hanging out.
- Only Start Work on a Potential Crisis Situation after It’s Public. This is closely related to item 1, of course. Even if you have decided you won’t play ostrich, you can still foster your developing crisis by deciding not to do any advance preparation. Before the situation becomes public, you still have some proactive options available. You could, for example, thrash out and even test some planned key messages, but that would probably mean that you will communicate promptly and credibly when the crisis breaks publicly, and you don’t want to do that, do you? So, to allow your crisis to gain a strong foothold in the public’s mind, make sure you address all issues from a defensive posture — something much easier to do when you don’t plan ahead. Shoot from the hip, and give off the cuff, unrehearsed remarks.
- Let Your Reputation Speak for You. That worked out so well for the now-defunct Arthur Andersen, once one of the largest accounting firms in the world – before Enron.
Want to know the rest of The 10 Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communications? Click here!
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]
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