Common Communication Mistakes in a Crisis

By Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

In a large number of crises, there are as many mistakes made by management as Heinz has pickles.

To boil down the possible mistakes for a blog is a bit challenging. How about a posting about the size of “War and Peace” to cover all possible off-the-rails scenarios?  But, alas, I don’t have the writing skill to pen a tome the size of the Bible. However, there are some very obvious and often repeated mistakes that can be discussed in short order.

Here are a few:

  1. Going into the public communication phase of a crisis without all the facts. This happens regularly and can blow your credibility with the media and public in a split-fire second. You must first seek out a lot of data, but beware that much of it may be contradictory or downright wrong. Sort, analyze, confirm and ferret out the truth before you take to the airwaves.
  2. Waiting, and then waiting some more. Truth is, a crisis really never sits around like your teenage son, waiting for something to happen. Time is of the essence (heard that term before?)
  3. Not sticking to key messages. Please make sure everyone on the team, and in the organization, knows these simple but powerful story lines. Nothing like the boss going “off script” at the worst time. Have just three overarching messages to keep everyone on the same page.
  4. Avoiding the media. You should work with the media at the very first possible moment. You can be sure that someone has notified them of your situation, and it’s just a matter of time until they contact you. Better to be proactive than to be accused of dodging or hiding from the story.
  5. Forgetting about the social media and its never-ending and pervasive presence. Today, we have citizen journalists and camera phones, tweets, posts and blogs to ensure almost everything gets covered. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, you still have to deal with it, so get your message out fast.
  6. Finally, not working with your “internal stakeholders” to ensure a single point of entry for the media and public can be deadly. Remember, leaks do happen, and rogue employees may have access to a ton of insider information. Try to restrict all possible access points to information. You need a single conduit to the public and press.

Again, crises are going to happen. But coming out smelling like that red rose takes forethought, planning and lightning speed responses.