When is it TMI?

I’ve noticed a major strategy issue emerging in some recent crises I’ve been involved in. When is addressing issues and concerns in your statements providing too much information?

For example, eliminating the potential source of a food borne illness. Saying something like: “The illness is not linked to this source because of …”  Or, “we have eliminated the possibility of the accident being caused by…”

The disagreement in strategy relates to the belief that it is best to say as little as possible. People may not have even considered that source or cause, or those observing might not have even know that that was food was served or that situation existing to possibly cause an accident, so why bring it to their attention? It is a very good point and I can see the danger of doing so.

However, my philosophy has long been to identify the potential questions and address them in your statements as much as you possibly can. This does two things: communicates openness and transparency. More important, it reduces the questions that have to be answered. If some media outlets (or stakeholders) ask a question about it and others don’t, the reports are going to come out mixed and likely inconsistent. That undermines trust.

Managing a large volume of inquiries is one of the biggest challenges in a major crisis and most plans that I’ve seen to not adequately prepare for it. Providing consistency of responses and insuring information discipline is another big problem. Both of these are addressed, in my thinking, by providing answers to potential questions in the published statements.

No doubt there are circumstances where raising an issue is going to cause considerably more harm than the benefit gained. But, in general I’ve seen there is an unwarranted reluctance to address touchy subjects even when it is clear the question will have to be addressed.

But, would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The three basic crisis communication strategies

While I mostly talk to company, agency or organization leaders about crisis communication and reputation management, sometimes the reputation in question belongs to an individual.  You don’t have to be a celebrity to have potential for reputation disaster.  Individuals whose name is attached to the business or profession they are in, in other words where their name is also a brand, are particularly susceptible. Search engines and the long memory of the internet make the problem so much greater. Yesterday’s newspaper is already in the garbage and yesterday’s TV report is already in the ether along with all past reports, but on the Internet they are retained presumably for ever, and always accessible at the touch of a Google button.

A recent conversation reminded me of how the Internet has changed reputation management and how it therefore changes the response. The really big question when dealing with media coverage of bad news about a brand (personal, corporate or otherwise) is whether or not to respond, and if so, how far and wide to push the response. The basic rule is: don’t make it worse. You can make it worse by bringing the bad reports to the attention of others who might otherwise have missed the 11 pm news. Maybe it will all just go away. Or, not.

There are no hard and fast rules for making a decision on whether to respond or not, but the three basic communication strategies I’ve incorporated into the OnePage Crisis Communication Plan are useful in helping to make a good decision. The three strategies are Reactive, Semi-Proactive and Proactive.

Reactive involves creating a Holding Statement, Standby Statement or other such name. It is not intended for release, but to provide to reporters or others asking about the situation should media reports arise or social media interest trend upward. It provides your version of the events or story, including if appropriate an apology and explanation of what you are doing about fixing whatever went wrong.

Semi-Proactive is a minor or discreet public release of your story. If you have a website it can be placed in a quiet position, not hidden, but not blatantly visible. It could be included in a Facebook account, but not advisable as Facebook and certainly Twitter I would consider distribution tools, essentially push communications rather than pull communications. If you do use FB or Twitter for the semi-proactive I would have a very gentle headline leading to a more detailed document posted publicly elsewhere. The idea here is to post publicly so that no one can say you are hiding, but not in a way that calls attention to it. If reporters call and ask for your statement, you can say, I posted my comments publicly several hours/days/weeks ago. It shows openness and willingness to communicate but, if handled right, does not draw unneeded attention.

Proactive, as it suggests, is aggressively distributing your story or information. Sending via email. Broadcasting through your social media channels. Distributing releases. Dominant position on your website. YouTube video. Whatever. But again, there are nuances here. Decisions still have to be made about how far and wide to go. The general rule I try to follow is to closely monitor the track the story is taking in the media and social media and try to stay one step ahead. Underlying this whole strategy is the fundamental principle that if there is bad news, it should come from you, not someone else.