Don’t Let Your Lawyers Decide Your Communication Strategy
It would help if you listened to your lawyers but did not let them decide all the means of your communication. Lawyers are trained to save a person from prison or penalties. By all means, listen to them as you don’t want to say something that leads you to a lawsuit. Lawyers are there to mitigate your legal risk. But there is another court you have to worry about: the court of the public, which is equally essential for your name and reputation. Your lawyers can provide you with legal help but may not understand how to satisfy other entities related to your business.
There are cases where organizations entirely and exclusively follow the advice of their lawyers in their communication plan and do not get into any legal issues. But their customers and clients have a low opinion that nobody wants to do business with them. Their revenue falls to zero, and they go bankrupt. As your company’s leading spokesperson, your job is to consider the legal aspects, but you have to look at the big picture; all stakeholders, the legal system and the public, the regulators, customers, clients, investors and your employees. You have to consider the immediate concerns of all of these people. You have to address them to make them feel better about the situation. Tell them that although it is not a great situation, you are trying to do your best in the current situation to improve things. This is important at every stage of the crisis, whether ten minutes, a week, or a month after the crisis.
How Often Should You Communicate In The Crisis
The more often, the better because the days are gone when you can respond 24 hours after any crisis, and it was considered a quick response. If any company does so now, it is out of business. You certainly need to have some statement out within an hour. Suppose there is a massive crisis like a fire or explosion and there is destruction and injuries. In that case, you should be available and accessible at least once an hour or even more often for the TV crews and reporters to answer their questions.
Don’t Guess At A Time Of Crisis.
It is human nature to know something new, and you might not know anything new for a time, but the key is don’t guess at this critical time. People get in trouble during a crisis because they want to be helpful, positive, and optimistic. If someone asks, will the fire be out in 3 hours? If you say that the fire will be out in three hours, hoping for the best, what happens if the fire is still on after three and a half hours? The tv reporter will do a split screen showing your statement that the fire will be out in 3 hours, and the other side will show the fire with flames rising high. Now everyone looking will believe you are a liar and cannot be trusted. Your assurances will be considered worthless.
So, you need to be very careful with answering questions about the future. Do not guess at any cost. Focus on only what you know and stick to the facts only. If you guess right, you will not get much credit, but if you guess wrong, you will get tremendous blame, misery and negative comments.
Be Careful With The Words In Your Answers
If a reporter asks a question, do you think any terrorism is involved in this crisis? Please don’t say it is possible, as we have not ruled anything out yet. It would be the worst answer from your side. You can get a headline on the news about possible terrorism at the ABC company. That’s not a good thing, as it will cause more panic. You can answer, “We don’t know the cause at the moment; we are focusing 100% on putting out the fire.” In this way, you are not dodging the question, but you didn’t use the reporter’s words back so it could make a headline with those words. If you don’t know anything when asked about it, do not hesitate to say you don’t know yet instead of guessing. This one answer will save you from any discomfort in the future.
As soon as the crisis happens, it is critical to have your team together, virtually or physically. Quickly brainstorm all the facts you know and all the information you are getting from all sides. Isolate the top three messages you want to convey immediately. Your highest rank person is your ideal spokesperson in a time of crisis.
Rehearse Before You Give Your Statement
Another preparation you can do to speak during a crisis is to rehearse on a video. It may sound crazy, but you can pull out your cell phone and deliver your three messages in 30 seconds. Look at it once before going for an interview. It will take only a few minutes, and you will feel more confident and comfortable delivering your messages for interviews and press conferences.
Practice The Crisis Communication In Times Of No Crisis
The time of no crisis is the best time to practice communication in case of a crisis. Plan how you should act and work during a crisis. You cannot plan for every crisis, but you can have a program or layout to react quickly and systematically in case of any crisis.
Think of any worse situation that could happen. Gather your managers in a room and then give them a specific scenario. Let them know a reporter from an international news channel is coming to interview in half an hour. Come up with messages and sound bites. After half an hour, get them back and interview them. Record the interview and then listen to the interview splitting every 10 seconds and analyzing the sentence said in that time in a way that a reporter can quote it out of context.
A person answering logically in detail for 5 minutes can be misrepresented if someone emphasizes just one sentence from their answer. So, crisis communication is a different skill set as you can be an excellent speaker in public speaking but be an awful crisis communicator when quoted out of context. Remember, it is not the reporter’s job to give a positive impression about you or your company; it is your job, so select every sentence you say carefully during crisis communication.
Do not let your lawyers decide your crisis communication strategy, as they only deal with the legal aspect. You must also consider the concerns of your customers, investors, and employees. Contact hourly in any crisis to tell the world you are available and answer the questions people are asking. If you do not know anything, don’t hesitate to say it as it can save you from many discomforts, and do not make guesses about the future. You can have a quick rehearsal of your top messages to get more comfortable at the press conference. Practice the crisis communication strategy when there is no crisis, as it will prepare you for any time you need immediate and appropriate action. Carefully select every sentence you say, as reporters will likely quote your statements out of context during crisis communication.