In our five-part series, today’s installment is about communications. The crisis has arrived, and the public is turning to our company. What should we say? What do the people expect to hear? The first thing to tell the public is: we’re sorry. We’re sorry we messed up, and if we didn’t mess up, we’re sorry that it looked that way. We also understand that the public wants to know what we are doing. We take this seriously. What this is about is empathy. It’s the Greek word for feeling with the other person. Public opinion today tends to be biased against big corporations. Whether this is warranted or not is beside the point, there’s no arguing with reality. So, in a crisis, it’s a good idea to try to ease the pressure and to calm public excitement.
Once we’ve shown empathy, the next step is to focus on our competence. We should say what we will do, and we should also say when we will be doing it. We should also link back to our strategy again and again and explain how what we are doing to defuse the crisis is the result of our corporate policy. Of course, at a time like this, it’s important that all in the company be singing from the same sheet, as it were, and this means not just the lyrics, but also the emotional message. Whoever may be speaking on behalf of the company at any given moment should transmit roughly the same passion, the same belief in the company to the public.
Once the extent of the crisis has become visible and the company has decided on an action plan, it may be time for the CEO to take a public stand. Think of him as the king in a chess game. He is the most valuable figure, but his speed and range is limited. This means any move he makes needs to be carefully thought through, and he should not be making too many moves, either. Once the CEO has spoken, the worst of the crisis hopefully will be over.