The Five Principles of Crisis Comms

Every organisation – no matter how well run, and how many fingers are crossed – can face that pants-on-fire moment when something breaks the calm surface.

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Crisis, what crisis?

If Prince Andrew is reading this, can I respectfully suggest your Royal Highness goes straight to Principle 5. It might be helpful.

Otherwise, welcome to the succinct, if metaphor-heavy, Kenyons guide to crisis comms.

Every organisation – no matter how well run, and how many fingers are crossed – can face that pants-on-fire moment when something breaks the calm surface. A disgruntled employee ‘goes to the press’/an internal email questioning a customer’s solvency gets sent to everyone on your email list/a product needs to be recalled – whatever…

And whatever the scale of the issue, the principles of handling the media are the same.

Principle 1

Principle 1 should perhaps be: don’t have any issues which might turn into crises. But this is not necessarily something that can be controlled, so in the real world Principle 1 is: Anticipate where issues might come from.

Look out for broader issues which might impact on your organisation and work out how to avoid being tarred by any brushes. Have tight internal mechanisms for flagging up any potential problems: you need to know if a power cut at your Chinese supplier’s factory might affect their production, which will affect delivery of a critical piece of kit for a multi-billion project to go live next week. Or if your board members hate each other. Or your star salesman has a drugs problem…

Monitor Twitter and other online forums and see what is being said about you, then refer to Principles 3, 4 and 5. Especially 5…

Principle 2

Principle 2 then becomes: Be prepared. Don’t wait till ‘something happens’.

Discuss how you would deal with potential scenarios, and agree the mechanism for handling any issues that might arise. Draft model outline responses to possible issues. Identify who is going to be best to put in front of the media if things reach that point: have all spokespeople media trained.

Principle 3

Principle 3 applies when ‘something has happened’: Be proactive.

An issue won’t just go away. Either actively head off a problem, if the media have been misinformed, before anything gets out, or have a dialogue with the journalist/blogger etc as they write their story, to get the balance right. Draft a holding statement at the earliest opportunity, and get your side of things in the open from the start (if coverage is inevitable).

Dealing with the Twittersphere is different from dealing with the traditional media (and that now includes online news channels). The Twittersphere is a largely unregulated world where ‘fake news’ and personal opinion take centre stage, and many organisations have decided to opt out of that environment. Being aware of what is being said, and weighing the implications for damage outside that forum, is important – but active participation (which works so well for Donald Trump) may not work for your organisation.

Principle 4

Which leads to Principle 4: Be open.

No comment, or misleading the media, will make things worse*. Be as transparent and honest as possible. The media will appreciate it, and trust you. And the story will be contained and (hopefully) more accurate.

Principle 5

And then, once you’ve weathered the storm and raised your heads above the parapet and used any other metaphors for survival, observe Principle 5: Don’t relight the fire.

If the story has been told, there is rarely value in trying to challenge points of detail, or asking for another chance to have your say. You might want to correct a serious inaccuracy, to put the record straight, but letting sleeping dogs lie might be a better course. Or the crisis might just run and run, as you stoke the fires…

*There are exceptions: see Principle 3.

Roger Kenyon (author), Chairman of Kenyons, has worked on a number of aforementioned crises over the years. These experiences have helped to provide the agency with a solid understanding which we continually grow, adapting methods as the interfaces change. If there’s anything you’d like to talk about in confidence, we’re here to listen;