“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” said journalist H.L. Mencken.
This applies to crisis management.
Almost every piece of well-known advice for crisis resolution can be wrong. What helps one area might hurt another. Below are popular strategies that occasionally don’t work well.
1. “Speed saves.” Sometimes it’s best to do nothing. Overreactions can call unnecessary attention to a situation. The key is to not necessarily act fast, but decide fast.
2. “Tell it all, now.” Again, sometimes it’s better to sit back and wait to see whether anyone is paying attention than hang the dirty laundry out for all to see. This doesn’t apply if there is a legal, moral, ethical, regulatory or leadership reason to go public. If you take the wait-and-see approach, be sure to have a contingency plan in case your dirty little secret comes out. Often, it won’t.
3. “The plan is important.” Often the team is what’s important. The best crisis plan is only as good as the team who implements it. They go together. Don’t shirk either.
4. “Social media will drive your crisis.” Traditional media dictates about 80 percent of the crises I handle. Social media is involved, but it largely feeds off the big guys. Communicate well with mainstream media, and monitor social media 24/7. In some cases, social media is where the real problem lies.
5. “Issue a press release.” At times, the best approach is to write a statement and give it only to those who inquire about your problem. Why send comments about the issue to everyone if not everyone is interested? You might create an avoidable situation with a news release blast to all media.
6. “Have great talking points.” You should first develop answers to the worst-case questions people will likely ask, if time permits. Yes, talking points give important focus to comments, but your credibility rests on your ability to answer tough, legitimate questions.
7. “Never go off the record.” In some situations where you are dealing with a journalist who’s gained your trust and you need to explain why your organization is taking action that makes no outward sense, go off-the-record. Occasionally, if you’re forthcoming and transparent, and the situation doesn’t warrant a story, you can persuade the reporter to drop it. The key is to be honest with a reporter you trust.
8. “Never say ‘no comment.'” Well, yes, don’t say those words, but there are situations when it is to your benefit not to say anything. Just be sure you have thought through the pros and cons with your team to ensure this is the right tactic. Usually it is not.
9. “Always respond to an attack.” Actually, ignoring it can sometimes lower the heat and trouble fades for lack of fuel. This applies to troublemakers and rabble-rousers, not legitimate complainers, although anyone can make your life hell.