Who You Gonna Call?
Disaster (and I mean disaster) strikes. Your business suffers. Who you call is a tricky question and, like all questions, the answer is “it depends.”
If it is one that involves life and death, surely first responders. But what if it is less than that? Regardless of what type of disaster occurs, you are going to have to communicate internally and well as externally. Crisis communications is a specific art.
Internally, you need a role call, of sorts. You need to decide in advance who is the first to know and who needs to know so decisions can be made. At first it might just be a select few staff members. It should then move to other employees (or employees right away, if it is an emergency matter) so they know something happened at their place of employment and what the expectations are going forward – what was impacted, how they are impacted, what changes are being made. But what about those outside the payroll system?
If there is a major, life-threatening disaster, you will want to let the family members of the employees know. Your shareholders will also want to know what’s going on with the business they invested their money in and how secure that investment is. You may also want to let your customers know something happened. But what do you tell them?
First and foremost, you tell them the truth. Period. You will craft this message to be direct about the event, the damage, what actions were taken to contain it, and if it is safe again to do business. Make sure you have one spokesperson, the face of the company, to deliver this message. But what if no one really knows about it?
Ethics should dictate you let your stakeholders know something happened – they don’t just want the good news. Get ahead of the media. The media will find out eventually. If you get ahead of the media, you control the narrative. If they get to it first, they do. No matter how much fact correcting you do, whoever gets it out first is the one who is remembered.
Think of how great it looks to say, “We detected a cyber intrusion and were immediately able to isolate it. After a few reviews we were able to determine no files were impacted. Our cyber preparations made this a tested but ultimately lucky day for us and our customers.” Do you think that means anything if the media reports that your company was a target of a cyber event? You bring questions, not relief, to your stakeholders.
If the story is different: “We were able to isolate the issue but not before certain files were compromised. We have notified to those impacted and will pay for monitoring for each of them. We are bolstering our cyber security as we speak to prevent another or worse event from happening in the future.” Does that have the same impact if the media reports it first?
Fortunately, you can actually plan a template for crisis communications in advance. Make sure you speak from a place where you have a clear head. Often that place is found prior to the need to say something.