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As a leading communication skills development firm, The Ammerman Experience pioneered a wide range of interactive workshops and training sessions designed to show people how to face the media, manage crisis situations, speak at public meetings, and deliver effective sales, analyst, and other business related presentations. Through our quarterly newsletter, the Advisor, we share some of our expertise in these areas.

10 Essential Crisis Communication Tips

Published: Jul 31, 2016

You hope your company never has to deal with a crisis, but as the old adage reminds us, hope for the best, but plan for the worst. If you keep your head buried in the sand, your company will not be prepared in the event of a crisis. That’s why crisis communication training is such a valuable exercise.

By going through crisis communication training, you and your staff learn the best ways to be prepared, the do’s and don’ts, and key pieces of information that might save your company from further damage. When you’re able to plan ahead, you never have to worry about the sense of dread that comes with not knowing what to do.

Since it’s vital to have a plan in place, here are 10 essential crisis communication tips that can help you and your company before tragedy strikes.

1. Start Now, Don’t Wait

As mentioned earlier, you never want to wait until something bad happens. Not only should you have a crisis communication plan in place ahead of time, everyone at your company should know what the plan is before a crisis happens.

2. Don’t Hold Off Responding

If you don’t have a plan in place, your immediate focus is going to be “What are we going to say about this?” Depending on the crisis, the media will be calling, emailing, and showing up at your door fairly quickly. The longer you wait to make an initial response, the more likely it is that the reputation of your company will be damaged. Adding your voice to the story will allow you to influence the messages that develop.

3. Choose Your Words Carefully

When speaking to the media about the crisis, if you don’t know the answer to a question, never guess, speculate, or give any information you haven’t already verified. Make sure you have the facts to present, and stick with them. If you don’t know the answer, let the media know you’re looking into it and that you’ll get back to them with the correct answer. Again, never speculate. Addressing hypotheticals will only make you seem less prepared.

4. Who’s Doing the Talking?

Ideally, you and your staff have all taken crisis communication training – but whether or not that’s the case, you need to decide who will be the one stepping in front of the microphone. It doesn’t have to be the CEO (although in today’s world, it’s difficult for CEOs to avoid the spotlight). Anyone can be the spokesperson/point person for the crisis, but whomever it is, they need to remain the contact throughout the event. It’s best to decide beforehand – as part of the plan – who the spokesperson will be.

5. Designate a Back-Up Spokesperson

A crisis never comes at a convenient time. That said, there’s always the possibility your designated spokesperson could be on vacation, out of the country, or otherwise indisposed at the moment of the crisis. This is why you should always have a secondary spokesperson assigned just in case the first spokesperson is not available. Again, it keeps the company from running around trying to figure out what to do, wasting valuable time and resources. The secondary spokesperson should work closely with the first spokesperson so everyone is on the same page.

6. Forget the Words “No Comment,” and Realize “Off the Record” is a Myth

Every time you use the phrase “no comment,” to the media, it implies guilt, whether it is there or not. The media will take everything you say and run with it. While you might be saying these things to a reporter, you’re actually talking to the public, and their opinion of the situation is what truly matters. When they hear the words “no comment” from you, they wonder what it is you’re hiding. As for telling a reporter something is “off the record,” a reporter has a job to do. While they’re taught to generally keep things you ask to remain “off the record” from the public eye, it doesn’t mean they will. Saying something is off the record is not a guarantee, and you’re risking a lot by putting faith in someone who has a job to do in reporting the crisis. It’s best to keep those “off the record” comments to yourself.

8. Is a Video Response in Order?

Depending on the crisis, it might not be a bad idea to create a video response from the CEO. This could be beneficial in many ways. First, it puts a human touch on the crisis instead of causing your response to appear as if it’s coming from a news outlet. Second, a video allows your company to frame the narrative without interruptions from the media asking questions. You can say what you know about the crisis and what you and your company is planning on doing to fix it. Lastly, this video will be picked up by most news outlets, so you have the added benefit of getting your word in the news, which will shine a better light in your company’s direction. Remember, it’s important to come across as sincere, and keep speculation out of the conversation.

9. Empathize with the Victims

This is very tricky, but a tightrope you’ll need to walk. Hopefully, you won’t have a crisis where there were injuries or deaths, but in the event that tragedy does happen, it’s crucial you immediately express empathy and concern for the victims. While you don’t want to deflect blame for the crisis, you don’t want to come right out and say “this is our fault,” especially if you don’t know if the crisis was an accident or caused by something else.

Don’t assume the blame, but don’t go out of your way trying to deflect it. You don’t want to come across as a heartless monster, especially if someone has just lost their life. This is a very difficult thing to do, and another reason why crisis communication training is important.

10. Get Ahead of the Bad News

If there is bad news – your company is to blame for the crisis, or something else bad – don’t try to cover it up. If it comes out in the news before you announce it, it makes your entire company look really bad. If you know there is bad news, it’s best to come out, take responsibility for it, and talk about steps your company is going to take to fix it. If you’re sincere in your apology, people will more likely forgive you. However, if it seems like you’re trying to cover it up (even if you’re not), the public won’t be so forgiving.

Crisis Communication Training Helps Prepare You and Your Company

While you might be able to set all of these plans up, it’s something else entirely to implement all of them. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Of course, you don’t have a crisis every day – and again, hopefully, you never will. Crisis communication training is something that can help save your company in so many different ways.

Think about a life preserver – you don’t really think much about it until the boat starts to sink, then it’s the most important thing you have in your possession. It’s the same with crisis communication training. You don’t think much about it, until you have to use it. Like the life preserver, it’s great to have when you need it.

The Ammerman Experience has been working with companies like yours for decades, teaching the most effective ways to handle crisis communications. Contact the Ammerman Experience today to learn more about how crisis communication training can help your company in the event of a crisis.

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