Recovering From A Crisis

Bridget Paverd, GillespieHall Senior Partner ◆ Crisis Management & Business Reputation Specialist ◆ Digital Marketing & Branding Strategist. In the 20 years I have been in PR, I have seen more crises happen to good, compliant companies than irresponsible risk-takers.  The point is, a crisis can happen to any business, of any size, at any time.

Everyone makes mistakes – and we encourage our clients to be prepared. Do you have a crisis plan in place? Is the strategy updated annually? Do you have a social media triage plan?

Far too often, the answer is no.

Your business is totally dependent on relationships: individuals, your clients/patients, stakeholders, shareholders, the media and the public. How you handle a crisis, irrespective how small, can directly impact your business, your reputation and the bottom line.

You may not be able to account for every possibility, but you can identify the most likely problem areas and prepare for the moment when they cause a major issue for your company. Be aware of your liabilities, the things that could come back to haunt you, personally and professionally. Some of these might be uncomfortable truths, but think how much worse it would be if someone else found them first. Leaders cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.

Part of being honest with yourself is acknowledging that you and your business are vulnerable. If you accept that you are not immune to damage, you can create a plan that will protect your brand from the worst repercussions.

Crisis communication plans differ according to the client, but one thing is consistent in all of them – the strategy for recovery.

So, how do companies move on from a mistake?

It starts with an effective apology.
A genuine, palpable, contrite, expression of regret.
It is that simple.

I find company leaders in crisis often recoil at the idea of owning a mistake and apologizing. They want to throw data at the problem, lawyer their way out of it, or distract stakeholders with non-issues. Perfectly understandable – it’s like realizing you are the only adult in the room and have no option but to deal with the  problem.

There is overwhelming availability of PR counsel on how to manage an apology, but I am a disciple of the simple truth.

“The first thing is to be honest with yourself.”  Nelson Mandela

My decades of experience in crisis communication have convinced me that audiences respond best when business owners/CEOs extend the apology personally. Taking visible ownership of the mistake soothes those impacted fairly quickly.

An apology should convey three core messages:

  • Sincerity/empathy
  • Accountability/ownership of the mistake
  • A commitment to change/a resolution so the mistake (disaster, error, tragedy) never happens again

A strong response to a crisis can shine a positive light on you and your company even in dark times. Your handling of negative situations says a lot about your business. You can either respond to a crisis in a way that makes the public question your integrity, or you can respond in a way that gives them reasons to respect you more.

“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

Whatever you do, do not ignore the problem. The crisis will affect you whether you react to it or not. You will have more control over the outcome if you are proactive. Ask for support from a trusted advisor, someone not affected by the situation and who has had a positive experience handling crisis.

If you or your business is facing a crisis, don’t lose hope! You may feel discouraged, as though there is no way you and your business can ever bounce back. But a solid plan and a right execution will carry you all the way through from prevention, to response, to reclaiming your good reputation when the smoke clears.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

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