There is a simple and well-defined process for handling a communications crisis, which I’ll lay out for you here. But pay special attention to numbers 3, 4 and 5. They’re imperative for connecting a sense of humanity to your company. Why is that important? Read on.
1. Be First.
Get your message out quickly to get the bad press over with more quickly.
2. Be Honest.
Lying will only dig you a deeper hole. Focus on trying to get out of the one you’re already in.
3. Put the CEO Out Front.
The sooner the public is responding to a human and not a company, the better.
Be as empathetic as possible and make your apology heartfelt.
5. Demonstrate Leadership with Next Steps.
Share the changes you’re making to ensure this incident never happens again.
So why is it so important to humanize the C-suite?
Because it’s easy to hate big organizations and corporations. It is much harder to hate a person who is warm, compassionate and trying to do the right thing—someone who is human. An apology from a corporation will never feel sincere.
In knowing how important it is to convey this sense of leadership, authenticity and empathy, you may have to make the determination that the CEO is NOT the best person to put out front.
Freedom Industries, one of the culpable parties in the Elk River chemical spill and subsequent water contamination crisis that happened in West Virginia, is a classic example. The CEO’s insensitivity—from claiming he had had a long day and wanted to wrap things up, to drinking bottled water during the news conference—proved that he was definitely not the best human to personify the organization. When the CEO is not the person, you need to look elsewhere in the organization.
Clearly, it can NEVER be the PR person. Instead, look to Operations if it’s an operational situation. Use HR for an employee-related incident. The President or COO are also good options. The closest you want to get to the PR/Marketing department would be a Communications Officer. Choose the person you would want to hear the news from if you were on the other side of the situation.