In crisis communications, handling a crisis is like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you are tired, you quit when the gorilla quits.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to delegates from leading African countries at the 4th Annual Cash Handling and Security Forum 2012 about how to deal with the media when the good reputation of their company was being threatened by bad press.
As a former investigative journalist and editor, I know when “the press gets the taste for blood”.
Rule number one in crisis communications, is ‘be prepared’. Any spokesman delegated to speak to the media when things go bump in the night, has to have all the relevant and most recent information about the incident at his or her fingertips.
An alert journalist will be able to ask probing questions, which if not answered correctly, could lead to more reputational harm being inflicted on your business.
The second rule is never ever offer “no comment” as your response. This just makes the journalist more determined to get a comment from whatever source may be available and willing to comment. All they want is a story. So why not give them one. But make it the one which suits your purpose – to protect your business and/or your brand – not the story that they may want.
It’s simple really, assist the journalist to get the story and nine times out of 10 they will assist you in your aim by reducing the often irreparable harm a crisis can render to you businesses’ good name, reputation and ultimately, its profitability .
Thirdly when dealing with a crisis ‘pre-package your virtues’. Ask yourself, what have we done right? And have that information at your fingertips, ready and accessible.
The fourth rule is to think ahead, as ‘if you fail to plan, you plan on failing’. Have your crisis communications plan in place to handle the fallout, and appoint a spokesperson who is trained to deal with adversarial media. Then having done that, convene a communications committee. In its brainstorming sessions the committee should draw up a communications strategy detailing who, what, when, why and how.
The committee will have to ensure that the crisis communication practices are in line with risk planning throughout your business, and on that note, they should identify stakeholder groups. These are the people who will either be directly or indirectly affected by a potential crisis. They have a right to know what’s happening in the company.
Finally posting a simple, transparent and factual statement on your company website is another effective way of communicating with stakeholders before, after or during a crisis.
Evelyn Holtzhausen is CEO of HWB Communicatons. He has assisted a wide range of companies and institutions with reputational risk issues, including the managers of the container ship, the Sealand Express which ran aground in Table Bay Harbour; and the security company employed to protect former first lady of South Africa, Mrs Marike de Klerk when one of their employees was accused of murdering her.