A crisis communication situation is never fun and always complicated. Over the years, I have done my best to help clients in crisis navigate the waters. This NYT article In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do is an excellent overview of the common crisis communication strategies as applied to BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs. What I like most about the article is the clear message that crisis management is not just about the communication — the actions taken are way more important. But, screwing up the communication does make it worse.
The article walks through the three poorly-handled crisis of BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs and points out what could have been done differently. The top of my peeve list is leaders not sticking to the agreed upon message. More than any other issue, I have personally found that ‘loose lips sink ships’ to be the greatest issue in crisis communication. Because leaders are human (and oft full of ego), many find it very difficult to say what was agreed upon by the strategist and then shut up. The article puts forth a few choice quotes:
“There is no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I would like my life back,” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP
Banking is “God’s Work,” Lloyd C. Bankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs
Believe me, no communication strategist or lawyer suggested those statements. They just didn’t need to be said. When all eyes and ears are on a spokesperson in times of crisis, stick to the script!
That brings me back around to actions speak louder than words and the best communication can’t make up for tragic environmental damage, car defaults that lead to death, or getting rich at the cost of economic suffering of others. But, good communication can pave the path for recovery and open the door to regaining trust.