I am writing this from the 5th floor of a condo in Seacrest, Florida overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, the “Emerald Coast” as the beaches of South Walton are called. I’m here with my team teaching crisis communication and discussing organizing an event here next year for those in PR who want to learn more. We found some shells on the beach yesterday and I’m always drawn to the broken and tumbled shells—worn out but still beautiful. I feel that way sometimes, especially when getting through a crisis. We are reading PR News’ Crisis Management Guidebook, Volume 5 and let me tell you, it’s worth the price I paid to get it. Excellent material here and advice/examples that you can use. One of my favorite chapters in the book highlights the importance of the voice of the leader in a crisis—so true and so important.
The excerpt written by Assaf Kedem (formerly VP/Director, Senior Writer and Editor of Alternative Investments at AllianceBernstein) has this quote: “Companies that neglect employee communication practices in good times stand a greater chance of failing to achieve their communication objective when things turn sour.” Very true. In my experience working with clients through crisis, the voice from the top must be clear, concise and constant. Statistics show that a crisis will happen to most organizations at some point—often by surprise. I tell my clients that often it’s not WHAT happens to you but HOW you HANDLE the WHAT that happens. Here are seven steps in Kedem’s narrative that help create a culture of communication in times of stress:
1. The message must come from the TOP
2. Don’t paper over it: don’t spin bad news, but tell it like it is
3. Communicate your leadership, muster employee support and set the example
4. Supplement written communications with verbal ones. This is very true and here’s a quote that I love: “In challenging times, there can be no substitute for voice. Verbal communication—especially if it’s face-to-face—is more personal. Speech offers such audible and visual catalysts as cadence, diction, body language and intonation that can help convey thoughts, sentiments and emotions more fully and effectively…”
5. Keep the communication going, even if it’s regurgitating
6. Consider additional channels (hotlines, social media, etc.)
7. Don’t forget recognition: recognize employees who are contributing and carrying the company banner of support
It is difficult to prepare for a crisis but important to try. We are going to be updating client crisis plans as having that discussion and planning session at least helps. The closest thing to having a full plan is having a culture of good communications. This culture can weather a storm much better than that of poor communications. How well would your company do in the rough sea of a crisis?