Throughout my career, I've worked in the high-tech, non-profit, residential construction industries, as well as, my own business WinnComm, LLC. There's one trend that is true in life. The employees who run our companies often live messy lives. Their bad choices in life can hurt the reputations of the companies we work so hard to build! Just read the daily headlines and you'll understand what I mean.
Personally, in my career, I've had to plan, communicate, and predict scenarios with sensitive topics because of employees' decisions. Tempted murder, pedophile, gang affiliation, corruption to name a few. Yep, I've had to create rude Q&A or FAQ, discuss messaging (not spin) that gives the facts around these very topics. Sometimes I've been included in the conversations from the start. Others I've found out on my own and suggested that we talk openly about the possible questions from targeted audiences. Being proactive is much better than being reactive. It doesn't mean that you email out the rude Q&A and inform your internal and external audiences - that's more like gossip. Instead, you create a plan and messaging, just in case so that the reaction time is minimal. The last thing you want to happen is the rumor mill to start! That is how the reputations of good businesses and nonprofits are destroyed.
So what do you do if you run across a similar situation?
- Make sure that whatever you decide has the advice from an attorney. You don't want to end up in a lawsuit, which you might anyway, depending on what the situation is.
- Create a crisis plan and have it on hand. Make sure you put it on the Intranet or Employee Handbook so that everyone has access.
- When a certain situation comes about that involves an employee, make sure the company president (if applicable), human resources, public relations and marketing teams all meet to discuss the particulars. In some cases, the media may find out before you have time to plan so make sure you huddle FAST and come up with messaging points and designate a spokesperson(s).
- If it hit the news, make sure you communicate your messaging on ALL internal and external channels. Don't forget about your employees, partners, board of directors! Make sure all of them have your messaging points, just in case their friends and family start asking them questions.
- If the media is calling, never say, "no comment." That just makes your company look guilty. If there's a victim, mention condolences and stick to the facts as you know them. DO NOT GUESS. If you don't know the answer, tell the reporter you'll get back to them when you have the answer.
- Always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts. The truth typically comes out anyway and then your company's credibility is questioned even more. Also, if there's nothing for reporters to uncover, the story leaves the headlines more quickly.
- Media Training. Get your spokesperson team trained! I've seen bad spokespersons become soundbite machines! (I have a GREAT media trainer if you need one! He's a MULTI Emmy award-winning reporter. He will travel. Contact me for information).
In the above scenarios, sometimes the situations hit the news. Other times, it hasn't. Whew! But the company was ready and prepared, just in case!