What’s your first move when rough waters start rocking your organization’s boat?
Typically, when the proverbial boat starts taking on water, organizations either go the no-comment route or take the perceived high road and issue a carefully crafted statement with hopes the problem fades away.
Option 1 is almost always a bad call. “No comment” screams cover-up or cluelessness—never an impression you want to give the public. Beyond that, it rarely solves your problem; often it exacerbates it.
Option 2 can have its place, particularly when it comes to issues that have legal implications or are still unfolding. Still, this approach is overused and often becomes a crutch, creating a false sense that the problem has been adequately addressed.
A third, better path to deal with many PR issues, is to take the problem-solver approach. Specifically, you position your leaders as problem solvers; through that lens you craft your messaging and lay out your plan for dealing with the issue at hand.
Here are six reasons this approach offers a better path:
1. It unfreezes thinking. Leaders who feel cornered are likely to hunker down in no-comment mode. By framing the challenge in the problem-solver approach, you have a better chance to shift the conversation to brainstorming and assessing viable options for tackling the problem—and how those options could be positioned in messaging. The added benefit is that beyond lip service, you can help develop a legitimate action plan.
2. It helps you acknowledge and address the problem head-on. You can’t highlight how you will solve a problem if you haven’t clearly defined it. Turning the focus toward how the problem can be addressed prods your leaders toward all-important transparency. Maybe not all the details can be revealed, but there is more wiggle room to acknowledge the challenge when you know it will be framed within an action-oriented solution.
3. It helps you quickly pivot to solutions. Which headline would you prefer: “Acme hammered by customer complaints,” or, “Acme rolls out three-point plan to tackle customer complaints”? The problem-solver approach naturally drives the story forward, putting the focus on the solution. If you act fast enough, you can even head off that initial bad headline and avoid damage-control mode.
4. It buys you goodwill. People tend to be forgiving, particularly when they believe an individual or organization is trying to be forthright, transparent and focused on fixing problems. If nothing else, you’re likely to get props for taking the high road and not hiding behind “no comment.” Any attempt at transparency also endears you to journalists and helps strengthen key media relationships.
5. It positions your leaders as can-do problem solvers. The most valuable and lasting benefit of this approach is that it positions your leaders as clear-eyed people of action. It’s likely that long after the buzz of the latest PR issue has died down, what will be remembered is the sense that your organization deals with issues in a transparent and action-oriented way. What more could you ask for?
6. It boosts your credibility as a strategic advisor. Sure, this approach can carry some level of risk and might not fit every situation. Yet for instances where it makes sense, there’s a good chance your leaders will start seeing you in a whole new light. You become less the PR spinmeister who puts together a prepared statement, and more of a trusted advisor who helps navigate rough waters.
Here’s the thing to remember: You’re always going to have problems. It’s how you deal with those problems that makes all the difference.
Scott Westcott is the corporate practice leader for Turn Two Communications. A version of this post first appeared on the Turn Two Communications blog.