Fineman Opines on Crises in the Washington Post
Because of our high profile crisis communications work, reporters looking for insight into complex organizational or reputation issues sometimes call on us as resource for commentary.
When I receive an inquiry from a reporter, I typically open the conversation with an important disclaimer: I do not propose counsel on situations that I know only from what I gather in media reports. A doctor wouldn’t prescribe a cure without seeing a patient and knowing that patient’s history. Similarly, for any difficult business or dicey public exposure situation and negative media attention, there are many factors that are only known to the client, and those factors often determine their responses. I know too well that there’s a rush to judgment without enough substantive understanding behind it.
I explained that to Paul Farhi at the Washington Post who was doing a story on how Fox News is handling or mishandling the O’Reilly news. Farhi wondered why Fox was keeping so silent about it and wanted my views on what I would counsel Fox if it were a client. Was silence the right thing?
Perhaps it was my comment that organizations should, “not get caught with their pants down” in a crisis that seemed so apropos to O’Reilly. Read Paul Farhi’s full story here: Washington Post: At Fox News, a wall of silence surrounds Bill O’Reilly
To elaborate more on my counsel, below is PANTCHEK, our handy-dandy acronym of general principles to keep in mind when managing communications in a crisis – and not get caught with your pants down. The caveat here is that this somewhat generic (yet critically important) checklist does not necessarily apply to all crisis ills.
- Public welfare is the first priority
- Assemble the facts. Once they are verified, Announce All bad news at once
- No blame, No speculation, No repetition of negative charges or questions
- Tell your side of the story or Take responsibility
- Care and Concern for those affected – express it sincerely and right at the outset
- High-level organization spokesperson – let the public see the crisis has top-level attention
- Ensure that it will not happen again with a solid plan that will generate confidence
- Keep a separate plan for moving daily business ahead
Then there is reputation recovery. Merely managing your way through is not aiming high enough. You need to rebuild or reinforce your reputation and respect for your brand, and keep your relationships intact. Diligent reputation-building is essential. Depending on the nature and duration of the crisis, success may require a long-term effort.
- Maintain open communications with media, community members, customers, consumers, investors, employees, governing bodies and affiliates via all communications channels, including social media.
- Employ awareness-raising tactics
- Differentiate your organization from the pack – did the crisis make you better and/or stronger?
- Become a category expert among your peers
- Conduct “post mortem” analysis and incorporate what you learn into future scenario planning