When the responsibility rests on your shoulders to communicate in a crisis, says David Guth, a journalism professor at the University of Kansas, follow these rules, which originally appeared in Communication World, a publication of the International Association of Business Communicators:
1. Speak the same language. Use simple language without resorting to industry jargon, either in-house or when speaking with the public. Crisis plans fail when they aren’t understood. This is especially important for global companies where priorities and processes vary widely.
2. "Kill" all the lawyers. Well, don’t kill them, but do cage them. A former chief of American Motors points out that for lawyers, information is a commodity to be bartered. They’ll want you to decline comment and save the facts for the courtroom or a settlement. Of course, that’s the worst thing you could do to your customers, employees and the public.
3. Define the CEO’s role. The chief’s presence is important, and timing matters. You can’t wait days or even hours to show up and provide assurance. Even though you may think your presence is required to troubleshoot the problem, it is at least as important that you explain what is going on.
4. Don’t wait for a crisis. Get out in front and at least guide it, even if you can’t stop it.
5. Drill employees. A crisis plan is only as good as the training and practice that come with it. Safety officer Rick Rescorla had conducted evacuation drills four or five times a year at his company in the World Trade Center. The drills became second nature for Morgan Stanley employees and saved thousands of lives on 9/11.
While a good communication plan may not save lives, it may save your organization.
— Adapted from Crisis Communications, Paul A. Argenti, McGraw-Hill.