There are critical moments in our business when, much like a doctor, we have to make the right diagnosis for a client. But unlike those in white coats, we can’t rely on stethoscopes or MRI machines for effective crisis communications. Instead, we must lean on our experience understanding our clients, their business, industry trends and the media world in which we live. Our job is to assess the long-term health of a company. These corporate treatment steps require experience, wisdom, teamwork, leadership and a wide-angle lens to address the matter properly.
Throughout my career at Jackson Spalding, I have had to make my share of diagnoses, especially when determining if a matter we have been asked to assist on represents a reputational challenge or a reputational crisis. There is a big difference between the two scenarios, and what often makes it challenging is there are shades of grey.
The following checklist is a good way to determine if your company or organization is facing a challenge or a crisis. If your answers are trending “yes” to the following questions, then you have a reputational crisis on your hands, and you need to be at the top of your game. Your organization’s future could depend upon it.
- Loss of Credibility: Could the matter cause a loss in moral authority within the C suite that will damage the company’s overall credibility internally and externally?
- Multiple Stakeholders: Is more than one stakeholder involved? Don’t just think about customers. Stakeholders could include employees, the general public, suppliers, shareholders, potential investors, Wall Street analysts and the media.
- Scalability: Does the issue have social media scalability? Never underestimate what and how quickly an issue could go viral. What goes online stays online, and just one blog post or bad review can reach millions of people with the push of a button.
- National Relevance: When the issue is relevant to national news and has an uncanny degree of timeliness with present or even past news coverage, watch out. Now is the time to be increasingly thoughtful in all your communications.
- Emotional Impact: Does it foster emotional repercussions both inside and outside the business? A challenge can move to a crisis when emotions flare up whenever the issue is mentioned. These repercussions create emotional staying power.
- Repetitive Failure: Is there repetitive failure with the issue you are facing? In other words, do you keep trying to clear the same hurdle over and over again? We have seen this pattern with myriad food borne illness situations of late.
In a crisis, speed of response is essential. Keep an eye on this checklist when advising clients or your company’s executive team so that you can quickly assess the problem and then jump into action to limit it. Every minute in delay can be consequential.
If you do find yourself in a crisis, focus on the message and messengers. Remember,
- The message must be clear
- The messengers must own the message
- They must speak with clarity and honesty.
Much like in surgery, a crisis calls for a steady hand and a team you trust to help you get the job/surgery done with precision and professionalism. If you think your company might be experiencing a reputational challenge or crisis, the Jackson Spalding Crisis Team is always on call.