Two-Step Guide to Successful Crisis Communication

Author Charles R. Swindoll famously once said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This quote is especially powerful when applied to a business in crisis. As Steven B. Fink, president and CEO of Lexicon Communications Corp. and author of Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, explains, every entrepreneur should expect to experience a crisis at some point.

“Crisis is inevitable; it’s a question of when not if,” he says.

Here, Fink offers steps to successfully handle any crisis that comes your way.

Step 1: Identify potential problems & build a crisis management team

Business owners are smart to spend time trying to identify the roots of potential problems before they arise. Fink recommends doing this by creating a dedicated crisis management team of four to five people in the company. The team should be based on position, not specific employee (for example, the director of public relations and COO will always sit on the team).

Once a team is established, task them in talking with employees about problems they’ve come across. Maybe a few staffers have received complaints about customer service, or a product has been returned more than once. Instruct your crisis management team to meet at least once a month to discuss these problems and how to solve them before they escalate into something larger, suggests Fink.

In addition, this team should be tasked with developing a plan when/if a full-blown crisis happens and communicate those steps to employees on a regular basis.

Step 2: Break the story honestly & first

“Be honest, candid and forthcoming with all of your constituents—your customers, stakeholders and your investors,” Fink recommends. “The worst thing a company can do is stonewall or not offer a comment or lie.”

It can be hard to admit the truth at times, especially when the problem is embarrassing or potentially damaging to your business. But, as Fink points out, customers will be much more forgiving if a company owns up to its mistakes than if it hides under a rug.

Importantly, Fink suggests business owners should immediately make public (via channels most used by customers—TV, email, Twitter, newspapers, Facebook, LinkedIn) the crisis, even before the media gets wind of it, if possible. This is critically important because as the breaker of the news you will be in control of the discussion, not put on the defensive.

“If you don’t come forth right away, the vacuum you create by a lack of informed response will allow your opposition to spread what tales they want to about you,” he says.

When announcing/breaking the news of your crisis, state the facts of the situation and the measures you and your company are taking to solve the problem. Circle back with an update when the issue has been resolved.

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