When an emergency strikes or a crisis occurs, it can be easy to make mistakes in the ensuing chaos. You must act fast to contain the damage, but you don’t want to do or say anything that will magnify the problem or draw more attention to the disarray. When people respond under pressure, bad things can happen fast if they are not following a plan.
The difference between a carefully conceived response and an impromptu answer can mean an irreparably tarnished brand or a successfully engineered sidestep. How you execute your public-facing response in tough times will set the tone for how your actions are perceived. The key to success is planning, preparation, and knowing when to reach out for professional counsel.
Do you have a crisis plan in place and does it cover a wide range of circumstances and scenarios? Have you taken time to outline a formal communications strategy, or do you prefer to ad-lib as you go? When a crisis occurs, emotions are mixed and tensions run high. You do not want to stray from your messaging in the heat of the moment or share information about something you planned to keep confidential. Careful planning reduces the possibility of mistakes and eliminates the need for concocting solutions on the fly.
Here are five avoidable mistakes in the wake of a crisis:
IMMEDIATELY CORRESPONDING WITH PRESS
Most people are unfamiliar with how the media operates and do not realize everything they say may be on the record, meaning it is free to use. News coverage can be enormously helpful in many instances, but it can also go the other way. If you do not know how to shape the narrative in your favor or how to convincingly plead your case, then do not speak with reporters until you are well-prepared.
One poorly conceived interview can have disastrous results if you do not have a thorough understanding of the potential threats and risks a half-baked statement could pose. Journalists typically reach out in a friendly way, but their intent is ultimately to get answers for a story. If you do not know what their angle is or what kind of comments they are seeking, then you could end up in hot water. Proceed with caution.
LEAKING INFORMATION TO ASSOCIATED PARTIES
When you want to publicize your side of the story, it can be tempting to share inside information with affiliated parties you think are trustworthy or friendly. Resist the urge. These parties may, in turn, share very sensitive information with unexpected audiences and the results can be disastrous. Be especially mindful of this when posting on social media. One poorly thought-out tweet can spiral out of control and cause irreparable damage.
It is extremely important to decide what information you do and do not want to share. Oversharing can backfire in a big way and reverse any forward progress you were making in the wake of the crisis. If you trust the wrong people, they may use information against you and your cause.
FAILING TO VET WRITTEN RELEASES
Never put anything in writing that has not been carefully reviewed by all affected parties. What may seem innocuous to you could present a huge problem for someone else. Share any written content with everyone on your team before taking it public because it is not easy to recall something once it is in the public arena.
Walking back statements that were initially issued with confidence may make your organization appear unprofessional, ill-prepared, or uninformed. It is best to err on the side of caution and check everything carefully first.
WAITING TOO LONG TO SHARE YOUR SIDE OF THE STORY
Be the first to establish the narrative. Do not wait to respond to someone else’s version of the truth. Control the narrative by getting out in front of the story before someone else issues their account of the facts. It is always easier to tell your own story on your terms than to have to defend the facts against someone else’s incorrect version.
BEING UNPREPARED FOR AN INTERVIEW
Never agree to any kind of interview unless you have thoroughly prepared and practiced your answers. Be ready to answer hard questions designed to undermine your credibility. An interview is your chance to steer the narrative in the direction you want it to go. However, if you are not ready, then the journalist may steer the interview in a direction you want to avoid. Do not agree to any interviews until you are ready to answer direct or tough questions.
The best way to contain a crisis is to plan ahead. Creating a crisis response plan before you need one is the best way to maintain control when disaster strikes. A carefully conceived crisis response plan will provide your company with a roadmap to follow that will help eliminate the possibility of avoidable mistakes.
Evan Nierman is Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis PR and strategic communications agency.