We won’t name names, but _______’s crisis response stinks. In fact, today I read half a dozen articles on poor crisis response. These are typical “week two” articles, and full of juicy quotes from crisis management firms.
Fact is, you, me and all those reporters have no idea how good or bad the crisis response was, because it’s near-impossible to Monday Morning Quarterback these events. It’s the same as when I try to be an amateur architectural design critic (because I have an opinion) — when I have no idea what internal battles and compromises took place on a project.
So here are 7 reasons why ______ is taking a beating on its crisis response, when in fact it might have been meh-ok, given the circumstances…
1. You’re not the CEO: A company’s response to a crisis usually reflects the tone from the top. And if the CEO has chutzpah, or no tiene juevos pa’nada, it shows.
2. Minimizing lawsuits: Much depends on the legal situation at hand and what the company can or can not do, based on legal precedent. Also, in the heat of the crisis, it’s the lawyers who examine actions through the long lens. Everything said, tweeted or quoted in the heat of crises will be examined two years later — perhaps in court — when calmer heads prevail.
3. Who knew what, when? What can a company say when all the facts are not in? Some companies decide to say nothing, others to disclose what they know and update the game as it rolls.
4. Too many consultants. Yes, as a consultant, I shouldn’t be saying this. But when the company is swarming with high-priced management strategists, it’s easy for them to feel invincible, and to “off the responsibility” to someone else. Yes, they might have some crisis plans, but often these plans don’t include communications. Just ask BP. or Yahoo.
5. Following bad models: Remember Johnson & Johnson? If you were paying attention to the headlines in the 1980’s, you’ll recall that J&J sued just about everyone who claimed to have poisoned (did you know that?). In the “case studies” that followed, this was all whitewashed over and to this day is held up as a (false and entirely wrong) “model” of how to manage a crisis. However, the reality is that cost v. benefit decisions do matter.
6. You don’t know what you don’t know: Crises hit fast, but facts come out slowly. That’s why it’s important to plan for a crises. Know your values, how you’ll stick by them, and how you’ll operate in those first 48 hours.
7. The company fights back: Sometimes, companies are attacked and they’re not at fault. Many people don’t like it when companies defend themselves, even if they’re right. I’ve been involved in several situations where communities piled criticism on to a company that was ultimately vindicated. Other, similar situations capture headlines, such as “sudden acceleration” — a hysterical phenomenon that nearly wiped out two automobile companies.
Talk to me about creating a crisis communications plan for your company. Start a conversation via email.