A company’s reputation, developed over many years, can be destroyed in just one day if a major crisis or the communication around it is mishandled. Improper or inappropriate response to the media on site can be the beginning of your company’s worst nightmare. To avoid that, effective crisis communication is the key.
Many years ago, nearly all long-distance communication was slow, and images of a disaster or crisis took a long time to emerge. Not so anymore. First came mobile news crews, then the camcorder and now cell phones connected to countless social media platforms. No single person or company can be completely ready during or immediately after a major traumatic event. But knowing the do’s and don’ts of immediate crisis communications can help avoid disastrous public relations consequences for your company.
The scene: an active shooter has just killed or wounded at least seven people in your store. The perpetrator has been shot and killed on the premises by the authorities. There are police, fireman and paramedics everywhere. And now in the parking lot are at least three news trucks with camera crews and microphones. You are the senior loss prevention person on duty, and the media is headed right for you. What do you do? What do you say?
It used to be that the direction was (and still is in come companies) to say “no comment” in the belief that less information would result in fewer mistakes. Current thinking is that this is not the best approach. A “no comment” response makes people think the organization is trying to hide something. If the media approaches you first, follow these general guidelines of basic immediate crisis communications:
• Respond with general statements showing concern and empathy, such as “The situation is obviously serious and we are working closely with the authorities at this time” or “We are still waiting for more information and are dealing with our customers and employees who have been directly impacted. This is our priority at this time”.
• Know whom to direct media questions to, both onsite and at the corporate offices. Say something like “I don’t have that information, but I will refer you to John Doe, our store manager (or most senior on site individual), or to Mary Smith at our corporate headquarters. Her number is 555-1212.” You should know this information in advance, just to be ready.
• Arrange for an individual who is fully trained in crisis communications to take over for you as soon as possible.
• Say “no comment,” as mentioned before.
• Speculate about unknown facts or even facts you might know that need not be mentioned at this time (names, etc.).
• Go on the defensive with statements such as “This incident was beyond our control” or “We are not legally responsible.”
These are basic guidelines that every loss prevention individual should be familiar with for immediate, on-the-spot response in the event you find yourself in this situation. Future articles will explore best practices in crisis leadership and the many facets of crisis communications, its planning, practice and execution following a major event.
Remember, being perceived as truthful, forthright and empathetic goes a long way in avoiding a media escalation that could result in coverage that is very damaging to your company.