Coping with a Crisis

When my kids hurt someone, whether it was intentional or not, I encourage them to apologise. I find myself blurting out instructions like ‘say sorry to your brother’ all the time. But then, like a lot of us, I normally take it one step further and say ‘now, make it better’.

Snatch a toy? Say sorry…and give it back. Smack your brother over the head with a dinosaur, say sorry and put down the dinosaur. Smash your brother’s perfectly constructed Duplo castle, say sorry and help us to rebuild it.

I want the apology, but I want it followed up with an action. Show some respect, regret and then do something about it.

I say the same thing when I walk into a boardroom and give the CEO of a company with mounting media pressure, crisis media training. Show some respect, regret, and tell me what you’re doing about it.

The stakes are much higher in that boardroom, your reputation and your future business relies on you handling a crisis properly and swiftly. Your sibling will forgive the tossed T-Rex fairly quickly, but your clients and the wider audience will remember the PR stench for years to come.

Good responses to bad situations almost always calm a crisis, both in and out of the sandpit.

Here’s a few tips:

*Act quickly: the longer the 4-year-old is left to feel hurt and upset, the bigger the apology needs to be.

*Have respect: make sure he knows you understand how hard he worked on building that colourful castle and that you appreciate why he’s so upset.

*Show regret: this does not necessarily mean you need to say ‘sorry’. We all understand the commercial realities and the legal implications of the words you choose to use. But you can still have empathy and regret when you see coloured blocks strewn all over the carpet. Even if you never utter the S word.

*Get your tone right: oh, how a bad situation escalates when my 6-year old rolls his eyes while muttering a very unenthusiastic apology. 

Say nothing during a crisis, and the other kids won’t want to play with you anymore. Your day in the media spotlight turns into weeks as more disgruntled interviews pop up, and more media outlets chase you. Gee, don’t you wish you’d done that interview 3 days ago when the story hadn’t blow out to what it is today?

A few weeks ago, in a media training session, I deconstructed a crisis that had played out openly in the media. We talked about why newsrooms had made the decisions they had, and why the story was reported in the way it was. The outcome was clear. The best way to keep your reputation intact is almost always to speak up, rip off the band-aid, and let it be yesterday’s news.   Find the right balance of empathy and tell them how you’re making it better. Mistakes are made, and then amplified through the media. How you play the next round will determine the damage.

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She’s the secret weapon behind a number of highly acclaimed television broadcasts, a producer with more than 20 years’ experience.