No company wants to find themselves in a crisis, but sometimes disaster strikes. When faced with a situation that requires skillful communication with the press and public, there are three key things to keep in mind.
- Express empathy.
- Stay in the present.
- Keep it simple.
To protect your reputation and goodwill, the first objective – express empathy – is key. If there are any victims involved, they must be the primary focus of any messaging. On that note, any pain, suffering or dissatisfaction they’ve experienced must be acknowledged. Regardless of fault, it’s critical to take care of any people impacted by the incident. “The fact is that crises harm others,” Powers noted. “The starting point for the response has to be about the people and what they’re experiencing.”
Stay in the Present
The second key talking point when preparing for a crisis-related media interview is to stay in the present and focus on tangible actions and goals. Although speculative questions and hypothetical theories about the cause, course or outcome of the crisis may be raised, it’s critical to focus on what is being done to address and remedy the situation and take care of any individuals impacted by it.
In response to the series of food-borne illness outbreaks plaguing the restaurant in late 2015, Chipotle’s then-CEO Steve Ellis illustrated this perfectly, telling Matt Lauer of the Today Show, “It has caused us to put in place practices that our epidemiologist expert says will put us 10 to 15 years ahead of industry norms, and I believe this will be the safest restaurant to eat at. This was a very unfortunate incident and I’m deeply sorry this happened, but the procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat.”
Keep it Simple
Ellis also illustrates the final point of crisis communications, to keep your message simple: Maintain a focus on facts while continuing to honor the impact to anyone involved.
Although a time of notable stress for any company, communicating during a crisis need not result in disaster. Bear in mind the three key components – empathy, simplicity and staying in the present – and proceed with compassionate confidence.