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Crisis Communications — What to Do When You or Your Organization is in Trouble and the Media is Houding You

Refer to your crisis communications plan

Wait. You’re saying you don’t have one. Not good. But the overwhelming majority of companies and organizations don’t have one either. Consider this a warning. Don’t let things stay that way.

If you’re reading this and you’re not in trouble, then do a crisis communications plan now before you need it.

You must:

A. Decide now who will be in charge and who will be your spokesperson. Don’t wait until the crisis happens. Make sure they are reachable 24/7. Also, decide now on a back-up spokesperson, just in case.

B. Encourage the CEO or the President of the organization to be the mouthpiece and public figure. They MUST be media trained so they know what to say, how to say it, what not to say, and how to mitigate damage.

C. Get your leadership group together and (before it happens) consider all the scenarios that could happen to or with your organization and reputation that would be nightmares if they did. Not a fun exercise. But necessary.

D. Determine which are most likely, and write them down. Keep brainstorming until you get at least a “TOP 15.” Come up with more if possible.

E. Work your way carefully through each one, using the principles you learned when you got media training. If you’ve not been media trained, then put that on your list to get on the calendar before the month is over.

F. Develop an answer to each of your “nightmare” scenarios and how you would respond to each if they were reality.

G. Formulate a compassionate, but calculated response when there is loss of life. I’m not suggesting that it be a contrived or manipulated response, but a careful one. This can’t be fake. They’ll see right through it (and it suggests you might have greater problems than we can deal with here). Also, your response cannot imply or suggest liability, but rather should show true empathy for the victims and their families. That should be the first thing out of your mouth. Just be careful and measure your words with precision and planning. It’s a fine line to walk.

H. Take the initiative immediately when the crisis happens. Fight the urge to skip town ASAP. YOU must be the first reactor and allow as little time delay as possible. YOU call the news briefing. YOU be the first and best source of information for the media and the place where they get the truth (even if it’s unpleasant). Fail to do this and some other (and usually less reliable) source will take over. YOU must fill the vacuum, or someone else will---and that could be another nightmare for you.

I. From your crisis plan (you do have one by now?) outline the immediate steps you are taking to correct the problem and care for victims. Even better, the steps already being executed as you speak. Let them know you are acting right now with your plan.

SUMMARY: These steps won’t make the problem go away like it never happened, but they are least are a positive first response to help with damage control and help salvage your reputation as responsible, caring, and ready to take action immediately.

--Neal Browne, Expert Media Coach

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