If the facts are on your side and your reputation is at stake, speak up. #crisismanagement #corporatecommunications #reputation
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As Michiganders we should be proud of who were are, were we come from and where we make our home. It is something to not only celebrate, it is something we should brag about. I am proud to be Michigan born and bred and make Detroit my home.
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In dealing with public health issues it is important to be proactive, direct, quick and efficient to maintain the public's trust that you are on top of the issues and working diligently to resolve the problem.
Photo Courtesy of Bryan Gottlieb
If there is anything we can learn from the recent crises facing General Motors (GM), the Veteran's Administration (VA), Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers, The New York Times, Target and other companies and individuals facing their own high stakes crises is that it is important to talk to each other.
As children, we learn that if we lie we will get caught, if we cheat we are only cheating our selves. So as business leaders, it is important to follow the rules and play by the rules. To engage your employees and the communities in which you do business. Work hard at developing working relationships, not just in the board room, but on the court or course. Make friends now so that if a crisis ensues, you will be prepared to respond and others will come at your defense. But most importantly work to minimize the risk of any crises by devoting the resources in developing strategic relationships.
Companies today are under a lot of pressure despite potential threats such as ethical violations, financial market rumors, activist campaigns, class action lawsuits, accidents and natural disasters that could undermine a companies ability to operate, let alone compete. Civil litigation, criminal prosecution, corporate governance, privacy, M&A, bankruptcy, regulatory actions, investigations product liability and recall, just to name a few, all require effective ways to prepare and respond to minimize risk and any potential damage. It takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it. In today’s economy, one’s reputation is their one distinguishing virtue by which a company can compete. Yet, disasters come unexpectedly. News breaks today in a Tweet. It comes so unexpectedly, usually with some warning but a warning we often ignore or fail to prepare for. From an undercover investigation by a local news’ crime stopper, to a disgruntled employee spreading rumors about your company or product over social media we all are at risk and vulnerable. Knowing where you are vulnerable is the first step in any crisis management plan. And if you know where you are vulnerable, you can change what needs to be changed.
If you don't and a crises ensues, at least know who to call. The first outside professional to get that call is typically a lawyer. By sheer nature of the profession, lawyers have become known as the first responders to crises. If a client gets into the trouble, they are instructed to call their attorney immediately. Therefore, lawyers need to know how to respond. When a client calls in a panic telling you that there is a news truck parked in their driveway or a reporter is sitting in their lobby, you need to act, address the issue and remain strategic in protecting the client.
For example, when a crises occurs we should respond and not react. As the first responder the lawyer needs to know how to respond. First, evaluate the situation from the balcony. Take a big picture view, not as a lawyer but as someone who is removed from the situation. Strategic counselors remain strategic when they are not directly engaged in the situation. They are better able to advise their clients as to how to respond in a quick, credible manner allowing the one dealing with the crisis to remain confident and decisive. In fact, keep in mind the following:
- In communicating with those that matter most, such as employees, customers, venders and the public, it is important to know what you will say. These key messages are the messages that assures the pubic your client is on top of the issue, is engaged and responsive.
- Next, identify the media and appropriate media channels to communicate. How will your client’s message be communicated? Through the newspapers? If so, what is their lead time and which reporter will you contact. Is it important enough to get it on line? Who follows your clients on Twitter and is that the best way to communicate.
- Become familiar with a few public relations firms or media savvy individuals that can help you in an emergency, that knows the reporters that need to be contacted and the process by which they want to be communicated with.
The good news is that crises can be prevented and the damage from those that aren’t can be mitigated. Lawyers should encourage their clients to plan. In fact, plan for the worst, yet hope for the best. Think of any scenario that could ruin a business or damage a reputation and plan. If you can't, than just know what to do should you get that call.
Saying I’m sorry or I was wrong is never an easy thing to do. But in preserving your reputation it can mean everything. Did we ever forgive Enron, Global Crossing, Worldcom or Madoff? ... We didn't, because the messages we heard were of blame and excuses driven by greed and arrogance. We know that no one is perfect. In fact, it is even okay to screw up every now and then. If you do, just admit that you did and are working to restore our trust and making positive changes as a result of this experience.
There is one time you are guaranteed to get public attention – during a crisis. Within seconds your corporate and individual reputation which took years to build can be tarnished. A crisis can occur in any organization at any time with devastating consequences. After all, it is the public that defines reputation, not the company. So as long as humans work there will be mistakes, controversy and blow ups .... and crises. We all know it can’t happen to us. But it can and happen when we least expect it. So how should we respond? And more importantly, what can we do make sure IT does not happen to us. Will we ever listen…greed, ambition and ignorance will give rise to scandal, intrigue and real life drama…..Government transparency and corporate governance further pave to make us each vulnerable. The Internet allows us to expose misdeeds or blow the whistle to millions including employees, customers, vendors and others within seconds and with photos or videos. Nonetheless, in every crisis there is opportunity (Chinese proverb).
The best plans don’t have automatic responses, but a number of questions for the crisis team to ask, include:
- What are the business goals in addressing this crisis?
- Who do we need to help?
- What information has been gathered?
- What don’t we know?
- Who can help us?
- What must we do now to protect our employees, customers and shareholders?
The company needs a set of messages that set forth the company’s position in what best describes its actions, its values and its approach (No more than three). Also, make sure any investigation is thorough and independent. And while it is important to communicate to the public through the media, the general counsel must make sure any response does not make the situation worse.