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Communicating in a Crisis: Do’s and Don’ts

Do: Tell the Truth

As we like to say in the world of Public Relations, “Tell the truth, tell it all and tell it fast.” This is simple to remember and cute to rattle off in a blog post, but it is rarely done and even more rarely is it done well. I cannot stress enough how important it is to tell the truth in a crisis. If your organization has come under scrutiny, it is very important for you to be the first ones to comment on the crisis. Remaining silent does not stop the conversation, it merely takes you out of the conversation. By communicating thoroughly and effectively, you can control the conversation. Think about it this way — It is often said that if you don’t like what is being said about you, change the conversation. How can you change the conversation if you’re not in it?

“Remaining silent does not stop the conversation, it merely takes you out of the conversation.”

Don’t: Hang Your Dirty Laundry Out to Dry

Just because you are telling the truth, does not mean you need to tell everyone all your irrelevant or unrelated secrets. If it is not relevant to the crisis, don’t bother telling everyone. A press conference or company statement is not a diary entry or a confession session, so tell the truth, tell it all, tell it fast, but don’t go overboard.

Do: Apologize When Appropriate

This one is tricky because you never want to apologize when something isn’t your fault, thereby assuming blame. You also don’t want to apologize when the main crisis was merely a matter of miscommunication and therefore not an emergency, thus escalating the crisis unintentionally. For example, let’s say one of your clients chooses to have an inappropriate relationship with one of your employees, you would not then apologize to the client involved, would you? No! They made a decision as a consenting adult and that’s none of your business. However, you might address the conflict by saying “this relationship was inappropriate and unbeknownst to our team. We have terminated [the employee at fault].”

Don’t: Say “No Comment”

All that being said, when something is your fault and there was something you could have done to stop a conflict from happening, you must apologize gracefully and sincerely, a la DiGiorno. When you say “no comment” to the press, it makes you look guilty and unwilling to admit your fault. Instead opt for a less conspicuous option, such as, “At this point in time we do not have an answer but we are working to find out all the details as swiftly as possible.” Succinct. Collected. Got it? Great.

Do: Train and Designate Crisis Spokespeople

During a crisis, the last thing your company needs is to scramble to find someone who “kind of doesn’t mind” speaking in front of the press. Select and train a good spokesperson who will be poised, collected and prepared to speak in case of a crisis. Good examples of people who could be designated spokespeople are Directors of Human Resources, Chief Financial Officers, etc. Do remember, though, that every business is different and should be treated as such. Do what works best for your company, just make sure everyone is on the same page and prepped. You want your company to seem as put-together as possible and if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.

Don’t: Assume the CEO is the Best Spokesperson

Although many companies have the CEO as the face of the company, CEOs should not necessarily always be the voice of the company. Of course there are exceptions, but oftentimes CEOs are so busy that they require others to write their speeches and prep them for face time with the media. Instead, it may be more beneficial to have your spokesperson write his or her own speeches and have a crisis preparation handbook stocked safely on the shelf. Likewise, depending on the crisis, you may have various spokespeople for different crises.

Do: Act Like a Human

While it is true that you don’t ever want to be over-apologetic, you still need to find ways of showing compassion so your organization does not come off as robotic or heartless. It is always okay to express your sympathies for those affected (if applicable) by the crisis, but remain as succinct and tactful as possible.

Don’t: Have a Freaking Breakdown

Acting like a human does not mean losing your cool. Whatever you do, don’t get in front of the media to regard a crisis and turn into the conductor of the waterworks show. This really–again–boils down to picking and training the perfect spokesperson who embodies the perfect balance of compassion and poise.

Take this advice and your company is sure to have smooth sailing in any crisis. If you are unsure how to get started, make a plan, talk with your team and ensure everyone knows their role if hard times come a-knocking.

Are there any Do’s and Don’ts you have that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear your tips! Comment down below and we’ll talk about it.