(Last Updated On: May 6, 2020)

CEO showing his expert crisis communication with the press


What if I told you, that not mastering crisis communication could determine if, and how fast, you make it to the top of your organisation?


And what if I were to tell you, that if you own a small business, you need a crisis communication plan, before a crisis, if your business is to survive? 


You don't believe me? 


Just imagine, in this time of the Corona virus, 15 of your 25 employees testing positive for the virus and suddenly the press is all over your small business.


Would effective crisis communication help you with this?


Let me take you a step further to show you what I mean.


I'll share "Javed's" story with you. Not only to entertain you but to walk you through 7 strategies that will help you prepare to manage a crisis. In particular, I'll focus on how you communicate when a crisis does happen.  


Do we have a deal? well here goes...


Javed had worked hard for the promotion to top management.


He thought it was going to be easy in this small organization but quite unexpectedly, he had competition from another manager - Marsha. The “bitch” had put up a spirited fight but the "boys" had stuck together and voted for him.


He was well aware that keeping his position would not be a walk in the park, so he desperately needed a chance to prove himself.


And then he got it…but how!


Some idiot broke down the office door, jumped over a desk and stabbed his ex-girlfriend, her best friend and a security guard!


Suddenly the business is in crisis and Javed is in charge. The phones are ringing like church bells on a Sunday morning and the press already wants to hear from the business.


He now had to get over his fear of public speaking as fast as possible and deliver the most politically correct, "job-keeping" speech in his entire career.


And he blew it…and how!


You see, Javed and most small business managers and CEOs seldom anticipate a crisis and therefore seldom prepare for it.


The few who do prepare, often fail to prepare a crisis communication plan. This leaves them exposed to the manipulations of the press and very much in danger of not surviving the crisis.


If your business or organization is to survive a crisis, one of the strategies you need is expert crisis communication, right from the beginning.


For example, at the time of a crisis, you need a single "crisis management speech" that satisfies several requirements. 


It has to demonstrate your concern for the family and colleagues of those affected, address the information needs of the public and at the same time, maintain the image of the business or organization.


Where do you begin with this?


Well, if you're smart, you begin well before any crisis. You simply won't be able to handle a crisis effectively, if at the same time you're learning how to handle it.


So if you stick with me, you will discover some useful strategies that will help you prepare for and actually win big with your crisis communication.


1. Expect the unexpected

As long as you have a business, especially one employing human beings, you can expect that a crisis can occur.


Therefore, you must establish a crisis management plan well in advance.


A key part of that plan should be your crisis communication approach, especially your media strategy. And now is a good time to build friends in the media before you need them, because you will need them on your side in a crisis.


You should also include a plan to improve your public speaking by writing some related speeches and practicing them.


Some other steps include:

1.  Prepare fact sheets in advance

2.  Work with an attorney to determine what you can or cannot say

3.  Decide on the most effective medium you will use


2. Don’t hide from the media

Whether or not you like the idea of having to deal with reporters, cameras, and microphones, you may need to.


Locking yourself in a room or worse, hiding under a desk and passing out messages to the press, is not the thing to do at this time. And yes, this was a strategy that Javed used!


Instead, cooperate with the media or else they will draw their own conclusions, and write a story to match them.


Marsha was very gracious in helping and encouraging Javed with this aspect of his crisis communication plan. But if there is no one to help you within the business, don't be shy about hiring outside help.


3. Learn that “No comment” is not an answer

I’ve been interviewed by the press many times for various reasons.


The one thing I know is that “no comment” in response to a sensitive matter, is an instruction for the reporter to go digging deeper and wider.


When reporters go digging, you are not in control of what they will unearth and how they will spin it.


It would be better to inform them that you do not have all the information concerning what they are asking about and that to comment at this time would be premature.


You must follow this up by getting as much information as you can and trying to get back to the press before they get back to you. You want to stay on top of this situation at all times.


4. Don’t lie

…Especially to make the truth look good.


This was a fundamental mistake that Javed made.


The truth was, part of the problem was that security at the business had become very relax and familiar, as is the case in many small businesses and organizations.


Javed's problem was that he actually wanted to spin this as an indication of teamwork and camaraderie in his workplace...really now!


A better approach is to remind the media that you’re in a crisis situation and that by its very nature, it was unplanned and circumstances are changing all the time.


This strengthens your crisis communication plan and demonstrates your willingness to fully accept responsibility.


When you do, you will earn the respect of all.


5. Remember your appearance and body language matter

Believe me it does, it really, really does. Javed got this right because he's always well dressed and naturally suave.


This is not the time to be impatient, sloppy in appearance or short in manner. The way you are perceived is very much the way your organization or your business will be perceived.


When you are in the middle of your crisis communication, you want to appear caring, approachable and sincere.


6.  Make your speech about more than words

If ever there's a time that vocal variety matters, it’s when you have to give a crisis management speech.


As the spokesperson, you are essentially the “voice” of your business on the television, the airwaves and in the social media.


First, your voice should match your appearance. You should be articulate and confident and your tone should convey empathy and authority. If a person were to close their eyes and just listen to you, they must know that you are in charge.


7.  Know that content is King…or Queen

Regardless of the media format you use, regardless of how you look, regardless of how you sound, you need to create a solid media “story”. It must follow the steps of good public speaking and you have to learn how to deliver it. This should happen as part of you crisis communication planning.


Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. Of course you cannot write your story before the crisis takes place.


And I am not arguing with you that too many spokespersons sound as though they have done just that.


But you can plan how you will handle certain things.


For example, you can  plan to use the CCO template (Compassion, Conviction and Optimism) to turn an angry crowd into an understanding audience.


You can learn how to use the 27/9/3 rule. This is how you tell your story in 27 words or 9 seconds highlighting your 3 key points.


You can’t do this? Start practicing now because research shows that in a crisis, that’s all the time you may have.


Finally, your "story" must mention all the other stakeholders who are helping you through the crisis, including your team members.

Your next "crisis communication" step...

Here you are, armed with 7 practical strategies which you can easily implement, if a crisis occurs in your business or organisation.


Let me remind you of them:

1. Expect the unexpected

2. Don’t hide from the media

3.  Learn that “No Comment” is not an answer

4. Don’t lie

5. Remember your body language and appearance matter

6. Make your speech about more than words

7. Know that content is King…or Queen


If you apply them, the next time you have to communicate in a crisis, you will create goodwill among your employees, wow the media and win the support of the public.


You will also stand out from among CEOs in your country as a genuine and caring leader. After all, you know how to actually win big with expert crisis communication!

Now, in case you're wondering...


No…Marsha did not take over from Javed but he learnt his lesson and he's on his way to becoming a much better leader.


To your crisis management communication success...


Lorna Barrow signature




How To Actually Win Big with Expert Crisis Communication

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