Crisis Communication

I think we can all agree that the BP created a PR disaster with their handling of the crisis shortly after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure if the PR team could hop in a time machine and go back, they would find a way to handle things a little better from the very start. (One would hope right?) The thing about communication in a crisis is that sometimes, we come across situations that are unprecedented, things that have never happened before, and it isn’t until later that we can get down into the nitty gritty of a company response and learn from mistakes as well as triumphs. This kind of communication can be especially different when hosting a conference call to update everyone and when you have only your voice and the words you are using to convey the messages, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Express your emotions so there is no question on how you feel about a situation. Sometimes, situations call for condolences to be expressed to families. Be sure you say that out loud. In a crisis, loss happens, and you’re sorry for that. No one will be able to see that in your eyes, so you have to say it out loud.
  • Use the tone of your voice to convey the seriousness of the situation. There is a time and place for jokes and humor on a conference, but this is not one of those times. It’s not always appropriate to try to “lighten the mood”.
  • Use facts and refrain from judgment or blame. When presenting information in a crisis, the last thing you want to do is speculate when you shouldn’t be. Talk about or answer questions about what you know, not what you think.
  • Keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Word is going to travel fast once you hang up from the conference. Speak in simple terms to lessen the likelihood that your words and meaning could be twisted.
  • Be mindful of the words you are actually saying. For example, using a word like “promise” is going to stand out. Even when you say “I promise” or “we promise” and you don’t mean the literal meaning of promise, for many, that word binds you into stone. Remember that your words have so much power, even though you’re just trying to offer comfort.

I think in the end, what I’ve learned from BP as well as numerous other tragedies that we’ve had in the world is that when it comes to communicating in the crisis, most of what people want is reassurance, but as companies, we are also trying to give the public the facts. What have you learned from the BP oil spill?