crisis

When a Crisis Hits, Follow This One Rule

By Ellen Decareau, Chief Strategist

It’s hard to predict a crisis. The ones that are predictable, well, if you think they could happen, they are easier to plan for. It is the unexpected, strange, and traumatic ones that test the agility and aptitude of a communications team.

-     Mice turned blue in a preclinical trial. 

-     Someone was shot in the parking lot. 

-     The third-party organization managing your clinical trial just went bankrupt mid-trial. 

-     A multi-million-dollar fee was just assessed due to a new government law. 

-     A senior leader was killed in a car crash.

 I could go on and on (yes, all of the above have happened), but you get the point. In all of these situations there is one rule that prevailed for what was a considered a successful response — assemble your team ASAP and respond quickly. This might seem logical — but there are countless examples where companies waited to get the message and story ‘just right’.  And in that time, their brand and reputation crumbled.

1)   Assemble the team.These are your high-level executive company decision-makers, likely one or more C-level representatives. Add also key persons relevant to where the crisis is concerned (medical affairs, IT, marketing/communications, Human Resources, regulatory affairs, etc.). Do you have a PR/communications agency? Bring them in early on to help manage the message. While legal does not need to be part of your “inner” crisis team, they need to be abreast of the situation and action plan. Aim to keep the crisis team ‘concise’ – only key individuals who will help you understand the problem and its possible ripple effects. The larger the team, the harder it is to achieve the next step.

2)   Respond quickly even if you’re not sure of the solution or cause. Look no further than Mr. Facebook himself as an example of what happens when you wait too long.Facebook’s “Delay, Deny and Deflect” strategy for addressing crises of late seem to be taking its toll on the brand with consumers deleting their accounts and industry leaders calling for leadership changes. Eek. But the guy who built a media platform that thrives on immediacy should know better. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, staying quiet only brings more scrutiny and questions. Distrust starts to form, which is typically hard to recover from.

Key Takeaway: At the end of the day, the vast majority of organizations rely on their relationships — that may be investors, patients, consumers, doctors, other businesses. Most are reasonable — they don’t expect you to know all the ‘why’s’ and ‘how come’s’ hours after the crisis was discovered. But, they do expect you to be transparent, express remorse (when appropriate), agree to take action & responsibility (if relevant) and communicate frequently.