A business crisis can happen anytime, to any company--without warning. You hope to contain your crisis in-house, but soon the mainstream media is reporting on it and it's trending on social media. Hopefully you'll have a crisis communications plan in place and you'll know the first steps toward controlling the messaging.
A company will be judged on its first post, written statement, interview and news conference. Employees, other stakeholders, and the public want information fast and delaying the inevitable will only make things worse. That doesn't mean the CEO rushes before cameras. It does mean crafting a bare-bones statement for media distribution and for social media. Later the company's communications director or mid-level executive may speak. But, at some point as this story grows, the chief executive needs to be out in front.
It would be a mistake to think because your business has a spotless reputation that it is immune from bad press. How your company communicates when trouble hits can be a make or break moment.
A few examples that impact reputation and the bottom line:
- Allegations of sexual harassment
- Allegations of financial wrong-doing
- An on-site accident
- A violent crime in the workplace
- A top executive says racist things (caught on camera)
- A product your company produces is tied to injuries
- CEO is caught up in a personal scandal
Typically a company's legal department will weigh in on statements before they are issued, to avoid legal issues down the road. However if your statement (written or spoken) doesn't feel authentic it won't help.
If the crisis involves the CEO, often you will see a company start to distance itself from the individual. A typical company statement may include..."We take these allegations seriously and are cooperating with an external investigation being conducted by..." Or this, "An internal investigation has been launched. We want to assure the public that we take these allegations seriously."
It's tricky for a company when a customer goes public with a complaint about service or a particular employee. Until it's investigated it's hard to determine what actually occurred. But perception can be reality. How many times have you read about an airline passenger who is alleging bad treatment during boarding or in the air? These complaints are voiced on social media and often spread to mainstream media. The airline doesn't want to throw employees under the bus, but they can't afford to ignore the allegation and hope it will blow over. And, naturally there's a good chance the situation has been caught on video.
Regardless of the industry, there is no time to waste in issuing a carefully crafted first statement. Someone should be assigned to monitor social and traditional media to determine how widespread the story is. Every situation is unique, but without a crisis communications plan in place, you may find yourself scrambling to know where to even begin.