According to marketing guru Seth Godin, all marketers are liars. This is no attack on Seth, as I view him as a rock star in the marketing world, but I am writing this post to simply ask the question, wouldn't we be better off if we weren't liars? As I write this post, I am reminded of a second book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. We were taught then that lying is bad, so why is it accepted now?
We might be tempted to "spin" the truth when things aren't going our way, especially in crisis situations. However with the speed of information these days, the more you spin, the more likely you will be caught and exposed. The role of the citizen journalist has become paramount in the information age, and due in part to the popularity of user-generated content and newer technologies such as blogs, anyone can write an expos'e. So if you are caught in a crisis, avoid the temptation to spin.
Tactics for crisis communications:
1. If you have made a mistake, acknowledge it as soon as you realize it. We all make mistakes, and we have all been in situations where we have had to apologize. The first step in any crisis communications plan should be to acknowledge the mistake, own the mistake, and publicly address it in some form (i.e. an apology).
2. Transparency is the key. Many media outlets love a good juicy story. However, there isn't a story to break if you are the one breaking the news. Don't let the media beat you to the punch. Be as transparent as you can be. Don't hide or restrict information flow. It will get out, and when it does, you will look like you did everything in your power to prevent it, putting you in a compromised situation.
3. Seek feedback from your key stakeholders. After acknowledging the situation, apologizing for the situation, and keeping your stakeholders (or customers) updated, seek their feedback. Invite them into the process. You only exist because of them. You are there to serve their needs. If you haven't done that very well or have offended them, find out how you can be a better partner.
4. Release an action plan. There are those who will be satisfied by an omission of error and an apology. There are others who could care less about an apology, but want to know that a similar error will not occur in the future. They want action, and you in turn want to avoid the same mistake as well. So examine the error or situation, consider the feedback you received from your stakeholders, and develop an action plan to address the situation. And don't be shy with it...share it with all.
Remember, business is about relationships. Relationships with the press. Relationships with your stakeholders. Relationships with your customers. There isn't a business in history who hasn't misstepped. How you handle the misstep will communicate a lot to your customers. Although unfortunate and damaging, it can also be a perfect opportunity to solidify your relationships.