March Blog

Three Questions about Crisis Communications
(and a few answers)

By Julie K. Davis, IABC Nashville President, 2014

Sometimes when the phone rings, I hold my breath. It could be anything.

Sure, it could be nothing. Or, it could be a whole lot of something.

That volatility gives anyone in the crisis communications business pause, but it’s also the stuff that fuels an off-beat kind of excitement. Each new situation is a unique challenge. Sure, there are some broad categories of crisis and experience really does matter – it guides you when you are in the thick of it and need to move fast.  But each situation has its own flavor, its own special ingredients, and it is a wise cook who pays attention to these details.

IABC Nashville’s meeting this month – March 2014 – is bringing together a panel of professionals whose experience in crisis communications is both broad and deep. I am honored to be part of the group, and this program got me thinking again about a subject that brings both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  There is no middle ground when it comes to crisis, I think.

So here are three questions and a few answers about crisis communications, adapted from a presentation I made at the IABC Mini-Conference held in Nashville in October 2013:

1)      What’s important?

  1. Speed – people want information and they will fill in the blanks themselves if you don’t provide it
  2. Thoroughness – provide facts, color commentary, whatever details that you are able/allowed to share
  3. Accuracy – share only what you know is true and right. Once said, you can’t take it back
  4. Framing the situation – people need context to understand
  5. Approvals – don’t say it if the executives and the lawyers haven’t reviewed it

2)      What are you trying to accomplish?

  1. Contain the situation – bad is bad enough, you don’t want it to get worse and you don’t want to make it worse
  2. Buy some time so you can gather more accurate information for sharing
  3. Protect your company’s reputation

3)      What makes it hard?

  1. Emotions – everyone has them, including you
  2. Need-for-speed vs. big-picture caution
  3. Lack of clarity, especially as a situation is unfolding
  4. Unfriendly facts
  5. Perception vs. reality

Are you nervous just thinking about that phone call from the Associated Press being your first clue that something has gone wrong? Does that thought start just a bit of a smile for you? Excellent! You’re ready to explore!

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