Transparency and Access are Vital to Crisis Communication

When a crisis strikes, most businesses and organizations are caught off guard when the first reporter calls requesting a statement. For business owners and executives, balancing the need to manage a crisis while dealing with the media’s desire to know can be one of the most stressful situations imaginable.

It is important to understand when a media outlet is hot on a story they will do everything they can to get the news. They have an obligation to their audience – not to you. They will first come to you for the details or a statement regarding the crisis, but if they feel you are not providing the needed information, they will then turn to others to speak on the crisis. The criticisms and negativity often associated with crisis related news stories are usually caused when reporters and editors feel they are cut out of the story.

Properly managed, the media can actually become a partner in communicating the true and important aspects of a story to your most critical audiences. It’s a delicate dance, but it can be done. The key to success is managed transparency and access.

Here are a few communication related items to consider for better crisis preparation:

Transparency – When dealing with the media, honesty and transparency rules the day. You are not obligated to know every detail of a crisis when it first emerges. Your initial statement should indicate an acknowledgement of a crisis and that you are gathering as many of the details as possible and will provide more information when it becomes available.

By providing regular access to a key spokesperson, your organization can better control the delivery of your messages. Your communications should be honest and accurate. Communicate what you know, but don’t speculate or lie about things you don’t know.

Proactively expect the media to provide accuracy. The best way to do so is by providing appropriate details, regular updates and access to a spokes person. You are under no obligation to give out sensitive or confidential information, but be upfront and say you can’t and why you won’t.

Anticipate potential crisis and prepare – Try to anticipate all of the potential crises your organization could experience. Then determine the triggers and actions each crisis would create. Each trigger should call to action a predetermined crisis team. The crisis team should include the leader of the organization (president, CEO, owner etc.), legal counsel, and communications counsel. It may require others who can provide information and assist in managing the crisis.

There can be multiple spokespeople during a crisis for various reasons and audiences, but the person speaking on behalf of the organization to the media should be the owner, president or CEO.

Surround yourself with experts and professionals – Don’t hesitate to draw on experts to help you manage a crisis as well as determine the best messages to communicate to the media. A crucial and often overlooked expert is your communications counsel. This can be a public relations firm, a communications executive or a crisis communications expert. They along with your legal counsel and other key members of your crisis team will provide you with the expertise needed to communicate strong messages, keep you out of trouble as much as possible, help strategically rebound from the crisis and most importantly help free you to deal with the crisis and your business.

Communicate to your other audiences – Sometimes in the heat of the crisis it can be easy to overlook some of the most important audiences you have – employees, employee families, investors, shareholders, customers, vendors and others. Plan to communicate directly with these audiences with the crisis information and keep them updated just as you would the media. This is especially true if family members have reason for concern of injury or death of a loved one.

These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg to prepare a crisis communications plan. They should give you the initial ideas on what you need to do and expect in preparing one – and you should prepare one sooner than later. It is imperative that you determine ahead of time to provide as much transparency and access to the media as possible. Doing so will help you better manage a crisis and begin a more strategic approach to recovery from the crisis.