Warren Weeks is a Toronto-based media and crisis training coach whose posts on social media are always wise, practical and on-point. He’s been advising companies on how to deal with crisis for three decades and here we are sharing his 15 favourite tips for better crisis management.
1. Always lead with empathy. Fight or flight emotions can negatively impact rational decision-making. Force yourself to think of your audience.
2. Confess the mess. If you have bad news to deliver, do it all at once. Don’t do it in dribs and drabs. Don’t try to hide certain parts of the story. Tell them everything and then tell them what you’re doing to fix it.
3. If you’ve done something wrong, apologize. The apology needs to be genuine and should not contain qualifiers or excuses.
4. Saying nothing is the wrong move. Creating an information vacuum opens the door for rumour and speculation. As a result, others will tell your story for you. The window to communicate swiftly shrinks rapidly.
5. Your company’s social media channels are the fastest, most frictionless way to get information and updates to your audience.
6. Post an FAQ about the crisis and your response on your website and link to it via your social media channels. This will save your employees valuable time answering those same questions by phone/email.
7. Media train your spokespeople. A media interview is difficult enough when everything is going well. A media interview during a crisis is much more difficult. Find a great media trainer and put your people through the wringer every few years.
8. Read case studies of companies that have dealt with crises in the past. There are valuable lessons to be learned from those that got it right AND those that got it wrong. Use their experiences to improve your crisis response.
Read more: our deep dive into crisis management
9. Tell the truth the first time.
10. Steer clear of tired old clichés such as, “We take these matters very seriously” and “thoughts and prayers”. They make your responses sound hollow and disingenuous.
11. Don’t feed the trolls. Emotions will be running high. Don’t let negative social media comments trigger an angry or inappropriate response from your team. Always take the high road.
12. Don’t let lawyers dictate your company’s communications response. Their job is to protect you in the court of law, not in the court of public opinion.
13. If there is an elephant in the room, introduce it. Until leadership is willing to address the most unsavory element of the crisis in a transparent way, the crisis will continue to burn.
14. Simply hoping a crisis won’t happen to your company is not an effective crisis preparedness strategy. Create a crisis plan. Run annual crisis simulations. Train your people.
15. If you’re not transparent, you’re lying. If you don’t respond quickly, you’re late. If you’re not empathetic, you’re apathetic.