Protecting your Reputation is Critical

By Nicolas Turner*

My immediate family will tell you that I love watching the American television serial drama The West Wing. Its seven seasons are on constant loop in my home.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it is about a fictional US president and his staff. One of the president’s senior staff, White House communications director Toby Ziegler, has this to say on damage control:

Get the information out early, get it out yourself, do it on your own terms.”

He’s not wrong, though there are a few more steps in the process to consider when preparing for and dealing with a crisis within a communication context.

Crisis management and supporting communication is all about protecting your reputation and your future. Though it is an intangible thing to measure, your reputation is your most important asset – it can take years to build and can be destroyed in moments.

Of course, there are other things that properly communicating during a crisis can protect – like profitability, market share, employment and the ability to operate.

With so many things, preparation is critical. Before a crisis occurs, spend some time identifying threats, develop a crisis team (when doing this ask yourself who do you need in the room), create a plan and rehearse various scenarios.

Ask yourself simple questions. What is the worst case scenario you could face? Do you have a plan to deal with it? Who will lead the response? Can you quickly contact stakeholders? How will you communicate? Where will you manage the response from? Have you identified ways to continue to run your organisation during the crisis and after it passes?

Importantly, the resulting plan only needs to be as simple as a checklist of actions that identifies what to do first, roles and responsibilities of team members, the communication tools you will use, key stakeholders and their contact details.

While any one of a number of contingency key messages or media statements can be prepared in advance for all eventualities, my preference is to formulate key messages as one of the first tasks (what to do first) if a crisis or issue eventuates. And when doing so, think about likely critics and what they may say and adjust your messages accordingly.

Once key message are confirmed and signed-off, they can form the basis of all communication (external and internal) to ensure consistency.

At some stage, it is likely that the media will call. Put simply, bad news makes headlines.

When they do call, log their calls and ensure they are returned promptly. Consider holding a media conference to speak to all media in the one place – this not only saves time but allows you to deliver the same messages to various media outlets.

The most important thing to take away is “be prepared” – prepare a plan, stick to it during implementation and then, when the crisis or issue is done, review it and adjust it accordingly.

Dos

  • Plan
  • Communicate simply – cut the jargon
  • Get communication help – in-house or consultancy
  • Demonstrate that the public interest is the main issue and empathise with people
  • Train the team together
  • Work fast – viral communication means the story can be nationwide – even worldwide – in minutes

Dont’s

  • Wait for it – what it is – to happen
  • Bury your head in the sand and say “no comment”
  • Muddy the communication waters with jargon, management speak or too many facts and figures
  • Be arrogant
  • Engage in conflict of head-to-head with victims, relatives, media or opponents
  • Put the issue in a box and forget about it until the end of the day
  • Put it off until tomorrow
About the author
*Nick is the Executive Chairman of Cor Comms. He has more than 30 years’ experience as a journalist and public relations professional in Tasmania.
To learn more about Crisis Comms, join Nick, Pauline and Adrian in the below episode of our Cor of the Matter podcast.