Indeed, the fact that there isn’t a single cure is why crisis communicators have jobs. No crisis is exactly the same as another, and neither are the solutions. One size definitely doesn’t fit all.
At the same time, as I shared with members of the American Marketing Association of Southwest Michigan last week, there are needs and behaviors common to every crisis—basic “to-do’s” that should always define how your business operates:
-- Empathize and humanize. The public wants you to care about them. Any business that succeeds will be human in its identity and sincere in its concern. But you must be empathetic and compassionate before a crisis if you expect the public to take you seriously during or after it. They should be hallmarks of your organization at all times.
-- Be accountable. When American car buyers and auto critics rejected the redesigned Honda Civic, CEO Takanobu Ito didn’t look for a scapegoat. He said, “The ultimate responsibility rests with me.” Ito held himself accountable not only for the failure, but also the solution—and, sadly, that’s a rarity in most organizations.
-- Be transparent. In a crisis, businesses are tempted to parse information, only revealing the least amount deemed necessary to avoid lawsuits. Usually it isn’t enough, and what’s held back will be revealed in due course anyway. Being open and honest will help deflect accusations of hiding information. People need to believe you’re trustworthy before they’ll trust you.
-- Be clear, consistent and factual. If people have some sense of control in a crisis situation, it helps them manage the emotional reaction. Communicating the fact quickly, clearly and consistently engenders trust, which is critical to preserving or restoring your reputation. And it’s simply the right thing to do.
-- Take the long-term view. A crisis tends to pull you into short-term thinking, trying to resolve the immediate threat. Of course that’s necessary, but don’t throw out the long-term needs of your organization’s reputation. Your commitment to honesty and integrity should drive both strategies. If you embrace a closed model of behavior in the crisis, don’t expect the public to believe differently after.
My final comments to the group had to do with being prepared. Crisis plans are necessary, but trying to create a plan for every potential situation is futile. You’ll wind up with a very thick binder that no one will read. Get the basics right, have your communication avenues and people in place, and be prepared to be flexible.
Most important, don’t obsess over a potential crisis. Celebrate the good, live in the present and stay true to your moral center.
After all, as a wise person once told me, every day can’t be a crisis.