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  • Writer's pictureErika Andresen

This is (not) Fine

Crisis communications is an intricate and overlooked part of business continuity. If you are unable to work or run your business, you will need to communicate that to a variety of audiences, but absolutely to your customers and the public.

What does poor crisis communications (CC) do? Create bad public relations (PR). Why? You first and foremost signal that you are hiding something. If the press gets ahead of you, and you look like you don't know anything about your company.

More than the issue of communicating to the public, there is a right way and wrong way to do CC from a content standpoint. From the obvious: don't lie. To the not-so-obvious: no emotion. Emotion is important because no matter the disaster or disruption, real people's lives are impacted in a negative way. Some people more severely than others by, say, a death or destruction of a community. Yes, just the facts, but not to the point you come across as a cold robot. Also avoid terrible jokes. If something terrible happens, do not, I repeat, do not say something "Well, there's always a few eggs that get broken along the way!" (or its ilk) with a shrug, chuckle, and a smirk. It is a crisis for a reason.

Why do companies mess this up so much? Firstly by not doing business continuity and having a CC plan inside their BC Plan. The benefit of doing things or preparing in advance is you are less stressed and more ready to perform. Imagine having a rough draft of a statement ready for a slew of possible scenarios. Ah, yes: templates. It really becomes a professional game of MadLibs. Change the subject or verb or adjective but the meat of the content is already there. Or maybe they haven't had any proper training (see point above about not coming across as a cold robot). Another reason? Hubris.

Hubris is what made the OceanGate experience such bad PR after their mini-submarine, Titan, went missing. Did it implode? Was there a chance people were still alive? Connecting the dots from all the voices that were speaking, they were all killed rather quickly. But whose voices were they? Not OceanGate's. They did not let facts entertain the real possible disruption of "is it possible this could fail catastrophically?" Add to it, "with our leader on board?"

I've written and spoken about optimism bias before in my Emergency Management lectures: if there is a 30% chance of a disaster happening, and 100% of people believe they are in that 70%, it is a mathematical impossibility. It will happen. Be better for it because you decided "what if?" Even if your ego thinks it is impossible, just run through the mental exercise at a minimum. And be equally grateful later when you don't need to use it...or you do.

Start imagining the things that can shut down your business and write a draft statement. A hurricane, a strike, an active shooter, the passing of your founder, a massive power outage, ransomware, or even supply chain disruptions due to the government closing down US airspace for one week (like they did after 9/11). At the very least, start with a holding statement - not a full press conference - that acknowledges an event happened and how, in the early stages, it appears it will impact the business with promise of an update soon to follow.

Or just email me and I'll send you a template for 2 events. Free of charge. Because it is my birthday week!

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