How to Prevent a Crisis from Careening Out of Control




Every business will face a crisis at some point, whether of your own making or driven by external forces outside your control. How you respond – both in terms of what you say and when and how you convey it – is what determines the impact of that crisis on your business and key constituents such as customers, investors, and employees.

When word is out, and reporters are calling, what should you do?

The importance of this point cannot be overstated. Before you do anything beyond providing a standard holding statement to a reporter, be sure to gather, analyze, and understand the facts and nuances. Believe it or not, this critical first step is often overlooked entirely or rushed. When a crisis hits, many executives feel personally attacked. This can cloud their typically sound judgment and instill a strong desire to prioritize speed above all else.

When the clock is ticking, this pressure to respond right away is your biggest enemy. In many cases, it’s better to intentionally slow the pace of the story. Reporters will give you time to gather the facts, if you ask them to. As a worst-case measure, if a reporter won’t wait to write, it’s often better to provide a standard, generic holding statement rather than release an ill-researched, detailed one.

So take the time to understand the situation. Don’t mistake assumptions for facts, and be sure to ask the tough questions. Gather as much information as you can and make sure you know exactly what happened before you communicate any details or information publicly. Having to correct past statements is a huge credibility killer, and you can avoid embarrassment down the line by ensuring your story, and all associated statements, are accurate.

If the first rule is to make sure you understand the situation and know all the facts, the second rule is that not every fact should be passed on.

When placed in the spotlight, and faced with possible reputational damage, companies are often eager to provide mountains of detail in support of their case or cause. But there are several problems created by over sharing.

First, you risk diminishing or even losing your core narrative the longer and more complex your response. Second, and related to the first point, the more room you create for your comments to be misinterpreted or even twisted. Third, you are increasing the likelihood that you will make a bad situation worse. A story that was interesting but set to be part of a single news cycle can suddenly grow legs and run for days.

Always remember, less is more. Think about what your audiences need to know, not what you want to say, and stay as succinct as possible.

Sometimes, right isn’t always on your side, and the truth is tough to swallow. In this instance, develop strategies and messaging for making the situation more palatable, but never, ever change the facts.

Being honest seems obvious, but when making efforts to present the situation in the best possible light, it is important to make sure you don’t skew things to the point of blurring truth and fiction. Always double and triple check statements against fact, and have multiple people, including lawyers, review and weigh in to ensure you remain on the right side of the fact-fiction line.

In a crisis, you get one opportunity to get things right. Take the time and do the work to understand the facts, don’t over-share, and while putting your best foot forward is important, always be honest. Keeping these three seemingly small things front and center next time you face a crisis will best position you to tackle and navigate the situation smoothly and successfully.

This post has been authored by Lucy Neugart.