Sci-fi television viewers in the ‘90s hungry for something other than Star Trek sometimes tuned in to FOX-TV's Sliders. In the series, college genius Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell) develops a means to travel to parallel Earths. He and his friends Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd), Professor Maximilian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies) and Motown singer Rembrandt Brown (Cleavant Derricks) “slide” from universe to universe, facing everything from a Soviet America to modern-day dinosaurs to a lottery that requires more than just cashing in your ticket.
The show had its highs and lows – sometimes very, very low – but each of the Sliders offers insights we can apply to crisis communications. Here are four points to consider:
1. “We have a plan. We just don’t know what it is yet.” - Quinn Mallory
Crisis situations rarely follow a script. Preparation and flexibility are key. Having a basic communication framework in place is the best starting point. Be clear on the common elements of any crisis: likely audiences, basic messages, who needs to be involved and when, and what resources you can deploy quickly. Test that framework regularly, but be careful not to create so many scenarios and processes that you can’t choose one when the real crisis hits. If you get the basics right, practice and adapt, the rest will follow.
2. “You bet on a game that you don’t understand? You’re an idiot.” - Wade Welles
Crisis communications done by the seat of the pants is a recipe for failure. While the Sliders often took risks with little knowledge of their predicament, communicators can’t afford that dangerous luxury. Understanding the business, the dynamics of the crisis and the tools at hand are critical elements. At the same time, honest and accurate information must be shared quickly to the right people in the most appropriate way. Guessing is never a wise strategy for communicators; it’s disastrous in a crisis.
3. “It’s ironic, isn’t it, at the time of our greatest danger, to be deprived of the comforts of platitude and self-deception.” - Professor Maximilian Arturo
Communication that’s accurate, quick, informative and empathetic will help bolster your organization’s post-crisis reputation. But that goes only as far as your communication and business practices before the crisis. Companies that are arrogant, secretive and insular during good times shouldn’t be surprised when they aren’t trusted during the bad times. Building trust is an ongoing process of interaction, integrity, respect and transparency. Resting on faded laurels, or laurels that aren’t really there, will allow even a well-handled crisis to make things worse.
4. “Platform shoes! What the devil were we thinking?” - Rembrandt “Cryin’ Man” Brown
Communicators have lots of bandwagons to jump on. This new process or that new social medium gets added to the mix, and soon there are more vehicles for communication than people can handle. It’s important for communicators to evaluate each new tool carefully, always with an eye on what works best for the audience. That also means weighing the value of what’s worked in the past. A print piece might be old-fashioned, but if it’s the most effective way to reach a certain group, why not use it? At the same time, don’t hang onto an outmoded approach just for nostalgia’s sake.
Sliders ended before its cast made it home. With the right preparation and commitment, that need not be the fate of communicators facing a crisis.