The three simple reasons why crisis communication efforts fail

Prepping for a webinar presentation next week for the oil and gas industry, I’ve been going back to some of the basics of crisis communications. Why do crisis communication efforts fail? Indeed, what constitutes failure? How is the success of a communication effort measured?

Seems to me the primary measure is on reputation–which translates to brand value, closely related to share or company value. That’s measured by those who have a stake in the company, sometimes called “stakeholders.” A communication fail occurs when there is an “unnecessary” loss of reputation, trust, brand value and/or share value. The “unnecessary” is necessary.

There are some events that are going to result on loss of trust, reputation, value. Spewing oil into water for three months without being able to stop it is a big reputation problem–but not necessarily a communication failure. Having your high profile CEO caught in highly embarrassing behavior is not a communication failure, but its impact on reputation, brand, value will be determined to some degree by the communications. Failure, is largely, the inability to meet the expectations of those important to your organizations–expectations both in your organization’s actions and behavior in response to the problem and failure in how the event and the response is communicated.

In trying to encapsulate what I learned in writing many plans for large and small companies and government agencies, I came up with 19 reasons why plans fail. Some of these reasons came from suggestions from folks like you, so if you have some additions I’ll add them to later editions.

So what are the three biggies in failure?

Speed. Direct Communication. Honesty.

If you don’t meet the expectations to tell what happened and what you are doing quickly, others will tell it and you will fail. There is not much time, moments really, to establish your voice and role and trustworthiness in an event.

If you allow others such as the media (who do not necessarily have your best interest at heart) to tell your story to those important to you, do not be surprised if what they say is not exactly how you would say it. And do not be surprised when those important to you are offended that you did not consider them important enough to talk to about your problem.

Honesty. Honestly, do we need to say more? How much trust will you offer someone who doesn’t seem to recognize the harm that has been done to those undeserving of it. How much grace will you extend to those who apologize but with such mealy-mouthedness to make it meaningless? How much patience will you grant to those who don’t keep you fully informed of every bit of information that matters, the good, the bad and the truly ugly.

It’s really not that difficult, is it?

Except to actually meet those expectations given the reality you have to deal with.