last updated 12/6/2010
Strategic Public (External) Communication
of External Communication
– who are we? “Verizon,” "Go Daddy"? Current Microsoft ads
– positive public perceptions of …
Performance – “Quality is Job One”
Operations – BP’s environmental and gulf coast ads
Public Service – “Miller bottles water for the flood victims”
Services - Keep the sotckholders and prospective stockholders feeling
positive about the org.
Opinion on Issues Relevant to the Organization
Opinion – Issues Management - "B.P. on the Oil Spill,"
"Intellectual property" as an ideograph
Affairs – lobbying, campaign support
crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your
company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. These
situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or
manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It can also be a
situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not
react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner.” Sandra K. Clawson Freeo (from the first link above)
Crisis Communication Strategies
Identification (we share your concern) vs Scapegoating
(We’re not the cause of the crisis;
Framing – defining the issue in ways favorable to the
organization or attempting to limit what may/will be considered as
relevant (e.g. pro-life vs pro-choice)
Institutionalism – We’re capable of dealing with
this. (U.S. Government after 9/11)
Tell it all
Tell it fast
Tell the truth
Steps in Handling a Crisis
Excerpt below taken from Brian Delany. “When the
Crisis Strikes,” THE CORPORATE BOARD, the Journal of Corporate
Governance, January/February 1991.
Prepare -- Every company needs a prepared
As pointed out, companies often do more planning for the annual company picnic
or a new product launch than they do for a serious event that could threaten
their success or even their survival.
Communicate -- Few perceptual battles are lost
by over-communicating. Chances are that the crisis will require your corporation
to respond to publics or audiences whether you like it or not, and often the
audiences are ones that you do not usually deal with. In most crises, these
audiences may affect the outcome of the crisis and its aftermath far beyond
their standing. Crises often require the opening of new channels of
communication. It may mean a neighborhood meeting, a press conference with a
community newspaper, or a political briefing. In addition, using existing
allies as third parties to reinforce your communications can bolster your
position and credibility. And, when communicating, never forget your employees.
They are your first line of defense and should be your most ardent supporters.
Finally, be brief. No one wants to hear anyone pontificate during a disaster. A
good sound bite -- the line that television and headlines will pick up -- often
consists of eight words or less.
Set responsibilities -- Crises are not time to create
a new decision tree. Unfortunately the human animal does not necessarily make
good decisions under high stress. That is why a crisis team and its duties
should be determined in advance. The team should include top management, and
should have its support. Further, a good plan should outline the decision
process and responsibilities for the most foreseeable emergencies.
Be there -- In times of crisis, being on site is
not necessarily a pleasant experience. CEOs are forced out from under the
corporate umbrella and no longer have control over events and their
surroundings. But perceptually, a crisis is a time that can create a leader.
Obviously (to borrow a chess metaphor), decisions have to be made on whether --
and when -- to expose your king. And sometimes using the king is not the best
choice. But one of the critical decisions that must be made in a timely fashion
is: should the chief officer be there?
Every crisis also has its "Don'ts".
Never lie -- This rule is often stated but too
often violated. One of the perceptual lessons of Watergate was that even the
most powerful cannot cover up the facts and survive. Sooner or later, your
enemies will make sure that a story gets out.
Pierce the corporate veil -- If you are to react
well to an unexpected event, you must think like a resident or a consumer or a
neighbor in order to understand what these individuals are feeling and to react
in a way that will gain you perceptual "points." Johnson &
Johnson chief executive officer Jim Burke reacted to the concerns and the
information needs of millions of his customers. As a result, he gained their
trust and confidence, and he won the perceptual battle -- and an even larger
Do not leave too soon -- Abandoning the
battleground before the battle is over indicates that you do not care, and it
gives a distinct advantage to potential opponents. Whatever the merit,
"concerned" individuals in any crisis have distinct information
needs, and they need assurance that the corporation is serious in responding to
the situation as well as to their needs.
"The buck stops here -- This phrase made
famous by Harry Truman and still used by politicians rings very true during
times of crisis. CEOs, for better or worse, embody their corporations. They
will not win any points blaming a subordinate in public. When the scrutiny is
intense, the media and the public do not distinguish between individuals and
the corporation as a whole. Sacrificial limbs bear their own explosive risks --
Ollie North, for example. And they create potential martyrs -- Elliot
Richardson and Archibald Cox during the Watergate "Saturday Night
Do not second-guess -- Adhere to the
decision-making process during a crisis. This rule bears repeating. All the
best-laid plans will be useless if a decision-maker falters in times of crisis.
That cog in the wheel could spell disaster. Every executive must be supported
in making the tough decisions during the high-stress time. Rarely is someone
blamed for making a decision during a calamity. Instead, the
"corporate" disaster often occurs when a decision is not made.
The stakes in a crisis are extremely high. Just 15
minutes testifying before a Senate subcommittee or 30 seconds appearing on the
national news can, if we are not properly prepared, result in a disaster for a
business or finish a top executive's career.
In sum, the best crisis plan is well thought out, in place in
advance, practiced with diligence, and constantly challenged. Taking the time
to think during a crisis is critical, but is only possible if the planning
framework is already in place.