Four Reasons Organizations Fail at Crisis Communications

We continually see organizations respond poorly in crises. We shouldn’t be surprised. The fact is that the great majority of organizations don’t prepare for crisis. It’s hard to get it right during a crisis; its nearly impossible when you aren’t prepared. Here are four reasons why organizations usually handle crisis communications poorly: Human beings. We are wired genetically to deny responsibility—that’s what Adam did, that’s what we did in our high-chair when we spilled our cereal—and we’re still wired that way. Accepting responsibility and owning up to a failure is a learned response. In crisis, being unprepared, instinct dominates and the organization denies responsibility. It works fine if it turns out that the organization isn’t to blame, but, just as often it’s the opposite. After the organization has issued the denial and then is found to be responsible, the public’s attention focuses on the integrity and credibility of the organization itself. The damage to the brand reputation can be severe, possibly fatal. Stress. Very few organizations are set up to handle crisis communications well. Doing things for which we are unprepared is stressful and all the more so when it feels like the whole world is watching. Attorneys. When a crisis lands you in the public spotlight, your lawyer’s trained response is “don’t say anything.” That is good advice for matters in court, but not the court of public opinion. In a crisis communications situation you aren’t in a court of law and you are not innocent until proven guilty. You are in the public spotlight and the public will judge you. Saying nothing is better than falsely denying...
Jamie Dimon — Owning The Problem

Jamie Dimon — Owning The Problem

The New York Times recently ran a story headlined, “Despite Legal Tempests, Dimon Appears Solid as Ever Atop JPMorgan.” The article explains that Dimon has almost complete support from his board, despite the “London Whale” trading fiasco and the recent deal JPMorgan made to pay the U.S. government $13 billion as a result of questionable mortgage practices. HOW DOES HE DO IT? DESPITE BEING CRITICIZED BY REGULATORS, INVESTORS, AND THE MEDIA, JAMIE DIMON, THE CEO OF JPMORGAN CHASE, HAS JOB SECURITY. Some of Dimon’s durability results from JPMorgan continuing to show a healthy bottom line. But some of it comes from Dimon’s ability to accept responsibility when the bank makes mistakes. The settlement for $13 billion was no doubt expensive, but by admitting the company’s role in fraudulent mortgage practices, Dimon was able to end several state and federal investigations that would have provided a drip, drip, drip of bad news for JPMorgan. And when Dimon does accept responsibility, he does it fulsomely. In the spring of 2012, after the London Whale trade became public, Dimon told reporters, “We operate in a risk business, and obviously it puts egg in our face, and we deserve any criticism we get, so feel free to give it us and we’ll probably agree with you.” In the same NPR story, financial industry analyst Karen Shaw Petrou, sang Dimon’s praises for his frankness: “There is no securities law requirement that CEOs say what they really think, but Jamie Dimon to his credit tends to do that.” That ability to tell the truth gives Dimon credibility and helps turn JPMorgan Chase’s mistakes into a...
B-Schools not teaching much crisis comms

B-Schools not teaching much crisis comms

One reason we see so many crisis communications missteps in the news — not that many recent MBA graduates are getting taught how to do it properly. Nine out of 10 business leaders think executives need more training in core communications disciplines, according to a recent study by the Public Relations Society of America. The reason: MBA programs are “notoriously lacking” in their reputation management and corporate communications curricula, according to Anthony D’Angelo, Fellow of the...
Free Sound Counsel Webinar

Free Sound Counsel Webinar

What:      Sound Counsel Webinar When:    Wednesday, October 12, from 2-2:30 p.m. EST Who:      Trade Association Executives INTERESTED IN LEARNING SOME OF THE BASICS OF CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS? THIS WEBINAR FROM SOUND COUNSEL WILL EXPLAIN. (INTENDED FOR TRADE ASSOCIATION EXECUTIVES BUT OTHERS WELCOME.) Sound Counsel principals J. Vander Stoep & Bruce Cordingly, along with Association Revenue Specialist JP Moery, will discuss the top five crisis communication tactics for every association and how to launch a new affinity program. Please click to...
Six Keys to Crisis Communications Readiness

Six Keys to Crisis Communications Readiness

Organizations can spend millions on marketing and PR efforts, but if they face a public crisis, they’ll receive far more attention than they ever could have purchased and their response to the crisis will shape the organization’s image far more than paid advertising. Downloadable PDF version here. That’s why planning ahead and creating a crisis communications plan is such a good investment. It’s just like insurance. You hope you don’t need it but it’s a mistake not to have it. Creating a crisis plan can cost very little, and it can mean the difference between an organization thriving through adversity and closing its doors forever. Here are six steps an organization can take right now to help with crisis readiness. Establish a chain of command. A clear chain of command is the most important thing an organization can do to improve its readiness. This means establishing who will make decisions during a crisis, including back-ups, and who should be consulted. It’s likely, for example, that the Legal Department will want to vet any communications during a response. It’s essential, then, to choose a member of the Legal Department who understands some of the exigencies of crisis communications, the need for speed, and that “no comment” might work in a legal context but not in the world of communications. Failing to clarify this chain of command in advance will increase the already sizeable amount of chaos that accompanies a crisis. Establish a crisis team. A significant crisis will create a tremendous amount of unplanned work … none of which is a part of anyone’s normal job description. It’s essential that...
Murdoch, and Lessons Learned

Murdoch, and Lessons Learned

Now we know even a media giant can flub crisis communications. We have been asked a few times by friends and colleagues to grade Murdoch’s response. He gets a mixed grade. A discussion of crisis communications and the lessons they hold for organizations. Including tips and wisdom, we hope. First, we have been reminded — again — of the importance of having a current crisis communications plan in place. Here are some of the cautionary lessons from News Corp: News Corp obfuscated and tried to cover up Remember that Murdoch’s media empire was first accused in 2006 of hacking phones. In 2009, the company allegedly paid $1.6 million to settle legal cases that might have exposed evidence of wider phone hacking. This attempt to silence the story has only made it more appealing to reporters. Murdoch should have anticipated more scrutiny and acted decisively at least by 2009. Covering up or ignoring problems only compounds an organization’s troubles by inviting later intense scrutiny. Murdoch is denying responsibility Murdoch says he’s not responsible for the hacking, his employees are. Specifically, he placed blame on, “the people that I trusted to run it, and then maybe the people they trusted to run it.” Wrong answer. It was the quote played most often from Tuesday’s hearings, because it was news: Murdoch appears to be passing the buck, and this will only anger the public. The Murdoch have damaged their credibility On July 9th, Rupert Murdoch said his lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks, had his “full support.” Brooks was arrested on July 20th on suspicion of bribing police. On the 21st, ex-News Corp employees questioned...