I’m pretty sure that there was a day in 1982 that James Burke woke expecting to have a normal day. Burke was the chairman of Johnson and Johnson. As Robert Andrews, J&J’s Assistant PR Director told PR Week that, “We got a call from a Chicago news reporter. He told us that the medical examiner there had just given a press conference – people were dying from poisoned Tylenol. He wanted our comment. As it was the first knowledge we had.” Within hours executives at Tylenol had a full-scale crisis to handle. The fate of the company was at stake, and the company didn’t have a strategy.
Sooner or later, every company and organization must deal with a crisis.
Burke decided that the firm had a responsibility to warn the public and put social responsibility ahead of sales. A seven-member strategy team was set up to determine how they will protect people and how they save their product and their reputation.
How would your organization to react to a bad story in the news or social media?
Does your organization have a crisis communications plan?
The time to develop one is before a crisis hits.
You will want to assemble a team that includes public relations expertise, plus the heads of your departments and others who could be helpful in a time of crisis. The head of the organization should chair the committee. If you don’t have any PR pros on your team, consider bringing in a consultant with that expertise.
The team should decide who will be a spokesperson during a time of crisis. Sometimes the media will want to hear from the CEO, but there are times when a non “C” level person should meet with the news media. That person should receive training on how to take on this task. It wouldn’t hurt for more than one person, and the CEO be trained. The person who represents the company must also have the right skills. Who is comfortable facing a TV camera and answering the questions of a reporter?
Communication systems should be put in place so that when a crisis happens, all of the appropriate people are notified promptly. Cell phone numbers should be shared.
The committee must assemble a list of stakeholders who would need to be notified. You will also need a list of media contacts.
Once you have a plan in place, give it a trial run. See how it works and revise it as necessary.
When the crisis happens, remember these ten basic tips:
(1) Get the relevant facts before saying a word.
(2) Listen to what your team is telling you about the situation.
(3) Don’t try to cover up a bad story. It never works. The truth will come out.
(4) Take responsibility
(5) Get out in front of the story. Address the most apparent concerns of your stakeholders and the general public.
(6) You will get the most push back and critical comments on social media. Everyone who has an account is a self-described expert.
(7) Make sure your comments don’t sound like a lawyer wrote them. Speak from the heart. It’s OK to consult with legal counsel, but don’t sacrifice the human touch. Describe what you and your organization are doing.
(8) Take action. Apologize and then make sure people see that you are following up on what you said you would do.
(9) Provide updates to internal and external audiences as often as possible.
(10) Whatever happens, and whatever is said, don’t take it personally. Keep your moral compass, and trust your instincts.
I believe it was John F. Kennedy, who said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, beware of the danger- but recognize the opportunity.”