What works in Communicating Bad News to Management and the Board?

A Few nights ago someone contacted me for advice on the above question. This was my partial response:

If you are an internal manager the situation is as follows:

It is always hard to get on top of things once the cat is out of the bag.  But in any event, it is best to follow the basic rules of Crisis Communications.

  1. Don’t add to the crisis by jumping the gun before you have the facts.
  2. Gather the facts.
  3. Determine who is going to speak for your organization.
  4. Make sure they are prepared.
  5. Act quickly, give the media as much information as possible, they’ll get the information from other sources.
  6. Never speculate.
  7. Protect the integrity and reputation of the organization, inform what your policy is, what action the organization plans to take and why.
  8. Protect your organizations clients.  In this case make sure they are aware of any actions which could affect them or their treatment.

After it is all over, it would be a good time to meet with management and promote the importance of putting a crisis communications plan in place for the organization and make sure you are on the contact list for anything that happens in the future. I hope this helps a bit, I am sure others will have additional thoughts.

To sum up, here’s how you should – and should not – handle media communications when a crisis hits your firm:

  • Respond quickly, professionally, and positively.
  • Don’t dribble out the story, making it necessary for the media to seek other sources.
  • Be forthright and thorough when answering media questions.
  • Don’t minimize the crisis by simply issuing a press release. Address the media in person through a press conference or small briefing with key reporters.
  • Never say "no comment" when responding to questions; rather, admit what you don’t know and promise to get the facts later.
  • Make sure facts are accurate and correct.
  • Be consistent in your message.
  • Use statistics and lists to help emphasize your points. They also have a better chance of being picked up in the story.

No one can foresee every possible crisis, but with a good action plan and media training on your side, your firm can at least ensure media coverage that sends the right messages.