Eight truths of crisis communications.

Author:Phillips, Brad
Position:Professional Development

In the age of social media, it's no longer a question of if companies will face a crisis. It's a question of when.

The combination of millions of ordinary people acting as "citizen journalists" and the infinite number of online platforms virtually guarantees that companies will eventually be victimized by someone, somewhere, spreading damaging--and often untrue--rumors. Those allegations can come from anywhere and fly across the Internet in a nanosecond with an anonymous click of a mouse.

And if those rumors are true, companies can be put on the defensive before they've even had a moment to gather the relevant facts.

Financial executives are increasingly the frontline spokespersons in a crisis. They are often the best people to handle crises such as allegations of embezzlement, inaccurate or fraudulent financial reporting, product recalls, supply chain issues and rate changes. And what they do in the earliest moments of a crisis may help determine how the company fares--if it survives it at all.

Although every crisis is different, most play out with the same underlying truths. The following eight truths of a crisis routinely help companies navigate their ways through choppy media seas more effectively.

Truth 1 The Media Will Cast Good and Bad Guys

When a crisis strikes, the media cast roles almost immediately. News organizations typically bestow only two starring roles: the good guy and the bad guy. That's because most media stories strip the narrative down to its most basic parts, resulting in each character being presented as an incomplete figure.

The actions taken in the earliest moments of a crisis will help determine how the media cast a company's role. If the response is tone-perfect from the start, companies stand a greater chance of being perceived as the good guy--or at least not the bad guy. The media want to know that corporate leaders "get it"--that they fully grasp the accusations being leveled against the company or individual, understand the scope of the problem and have the ability to effectively manage the crisis.

But if something about the tone is off--if they come across as defensive, dismissive or uncompassionate--the media will portray them as the bad guy. And once cast in that role, they're going to find it difficult to convince reporters that they deserve to be recast as a more heroic character.

Truth 2 Companies Must Communicate Immediately

When a crisis strikes companies should begin communicating immediately. Often, that means making a public statement within the hour. Companies should be "present in their own coverage," which...

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