Ever heard of “Crisis Communications”?
It’s a specialty in the Public Relations world that deals with successfully addressing and defusing a PR crisis using nothing more than words and images.
Companies that ignore it do so at their peril. Just ask United Airlines.
I’m not going to address the merits or demerits of what occurred on the plane. I know nothing about airline regulation, safety or personnel policies.
I am addressing United’s ham-handed, bone-headed reaction to what should have been immediately identified as a crisis – one that may end up costing the company one billion dollars or more in lost revenue and market capitalization.
Here are the 15 steps every company needs to take at a time like this:
- Don’t get caught flatfooted. It’s going to hit the fan someday. Be prepared.
- Immediately identify the Crisis for what it is and get all hands on deck.
- Accept that you are not going to come out of this unscathed.
- Never blame the victim.
- Don’t use jargon.
- Assign one person to speak for the company and stick with them.
- Commit to telling the complete truth. It is your only ally.
- Take control of the story. Become the most reliable information source.
- Recognize the public’s insatiable need to know – and know right now!
- Respond quickly, acknowledge concern, ask for time to gather information.
- Put out an action-item statement ASAP – within 24 hours.
- Use the media focus to your advantage. Get your message out everywhere.
- Gather and disseminate new information on an ongoing basis. Daily briefings.
- Lather, rinse, repeat until the public gets bored or the news cycle moves on.
- Put out a comprehensive report after the dust settles and tempers cool.
Remember, the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
We all make mistakes. Acknowledge yours, explain why the choice was made at the time and what you’ve learned from the regrettable outcome.
Or sit back and watch your company be vilified for weeks while losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
And get fired.
The choice is yours.