Category Archives: crisis communication

Crisis Management Musts: Employee Communication

Don’t keep your employees in the dark

When it’s time to go into full-on crisis management mode, many organizations are focused purely on A) cleaning up the situation, and B) communicating with outside stakeholders, whether that means customers, investors or the media.

Here’s the problem with that – your employees, who are bound to be just as confused and concerned as anyone else, are the ones handling the crisis, and by leaving them in the dark you’re leaving room for rumor and innuendo, decreasing productivity, and increasing the chance that someone will grant a damaging interview or drop a disparaging quote to a story-hungry reporter.

Training and preparation are key to being ready to communicate internally in crisis, and this helpful list from the blog should help you understand what the focus should be on:

Assume any electronic message will become public. Ten or 15 years ago, companies could reasonably expect that companywide memos would be kept confidential. Those days are gone, Davis said. Millennials in particular have grown up expecting to share what they know with wide networks of people. Some even consider it their duty to make information free.

Use high- and low-tech means to communicate. Social media tools like Twitter or internal corporate social networks can help get messages out to the workforce fast, and email and text messages to mobile phones can do the same. But Davis warns that many companies, especially those in industries such as retail and hospitality, have to think about more traditional means like printed documents and face-to-face meetings. “Few organizations have 100 percent of employees with instant access to email,” Davis said. Face-to-face meetings also inspire more candid conversations and build trust.

Lean on leaders. Davis said it is a mistake to rely solely on CEOs to be the messengers in troubled times. When other senior leaders can articulate the same points, it shows the company is unified and pulling in the same direction, she said. At large organizations, the top 100 or so executives should be expected to step up and lead in employee communications. “Especially in times of crisis, you don’t want only CEOs to communicate,” she said.

Move quickly. A key to managing a crisis is to tell your side as it unfolds, rather than letting others tell the story for you. Employees who don’t get an official explanation may take their questions and guesses to public forums like Facebook, fueling an unwanted fire of speculation. It may be that, early on, all you can say is that you’re aware of the problem and working on it. But providing at least a preliminary statement is better than staying silent. “That’s an external communications principle,” Davis said, “but it’s also an internal communications strategy.”

Have a plan in place. Deciding what to say to employees amid a crisis is hard enough. You don’t want to add the headache of assembling a communications team and figuring out how to get messages delivered to all workers, Davis said. One way to prepare for predicaments is to communicate regularly with the workforce through a company portal, for example. Organizations that do this are less likely to have to scramble to set up communications channels. When you don’t have a plan, Davis said, “that’s when you really get into trouble.”

Don’t forget to communicate internally when you hit a rough spot. Every single employee can be an asset to crisis management, IF you put them in a position to do so.

The BCM Blogging Team


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ESPN Benches Smith for Domestic Violence Comments

Understandably angry stakeholders and poor crisis management leave sports reporter in a bad spot

ESPN anchor Stephen A. Smith won’t be stepping up to the mic for at least a week following his on-air comments regarding domestic violence – specifically that women should avoid “provoking” men into assaulting them.

Smith did issue a recorded apology during his program on Monday before being suspended, but in our opinion it’s not going to be to enough to satisfy critics, or his employer.

“On Friday, speaking right here on ‘First Take’ on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career. While elaborating on thoughts concerning the NFL’s ruling versus Ray Rice following a domestic dispute with his then-fiancee, I ventured beyond the scope of our discussion by alluding to a woman’s role in such heinous matters, going so far as to use the word “provoke” in my diatribe. My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I’m trying to say. Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders. To say what I actually said was foolish is an understatement. To say I was wrong is obvious. To apologize to say I’m sorry, doesn’t do the matter it’s proper justice, to be quite honest. But I do sincerely apologize.”

It’s an apology, but it’s not the right apology. Especially touching on an issue as sensitive as domestic violence, Smith desperately needed to show compassion. Did he? Not a drop. Smith also needed to show he was a normal human who can make mistakes. Instead, he opted for overly complex wording, alienating him further from stakeholders.

When you make a major mistake in the glare of the spotlights, crisis management must come swiftly, and be done properly. Considering the degree of Smith’s mistake, and his failure to take the proper steps after, we predict this story isn’t over yet.

The BCM Blogging Team

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Chase’s (ineffective) Compassion-Free Crisis Management

Lack of much-needed compassion leaves bank’s communications falling flat

Having a debit or credit card charge declined is both frustrating and embarrassing no matter who you are or what you’re buying, something we would expect a bank to be aware of.

That’s why, when we spotted the below email from Chase bank, we knew we had to share it as a particularly bad example of crisis communications:

Chase bank bad apology false decline

The natural reaction is to assume one of two things is at work here, and neither one leaves a good impression of Chase as an organization. The utter lack of compassion creates the appearance that Chase either:

1) Has company leadership so out of touch that it has no idea how having charges declined for no reason makes its customers feel, or…

2) Simply doesn’t care

While we have no way of knowing if either of these are actually true, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that customers who received this email will be thinking along the same lines, and that means many little dings on Chase’s reputaiton, dings nobody in the financial sector can afford right now.

We repeat this often in our blogs because it’s incredibly important, and overlooked 90% of the time when it comes to crisis communications – you absolutely MUST show the Three C’s, Confidence, Competence, and Compassion, or you risk not only failing to get the message across, but also incurring further damage.

The BCM Blogging Team

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OOPS! White House Accidentally IDs CIA Spy Chief

Double-checking is never a waste of time when it comes to crisis management

Late last month the White House made headlines when it accidentally exposed the CIA’s top officer in Kabul, Afghanistan. In case you missed the story, here’s a rundown, from a Washington Post article by Greg Miller:

The CIA officer was one of 15 senior U.S. officials identified as taking part in a military briefing for Obama at Bagram air base, a sprawling military compound north of Kabul. Others included U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in the country.

Their names were included on a list of participants in the briefing provided by U.S. military officials to the White House press office.

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.

Believe it or not, the Washington Post reporter tasked with assembling the report on the briefing actually noticed the odd inclusion of someone labeled “station chief”, typically a position which includes one’s identity remaining classified, and asked White House press officials if it was intentional, something they initially confirmed.

After the list went live, senior White House officials noticed the mistake, and we’re certain a frantic scramble to remove it ensued. Although the media was largely cooperative, the list had already been published in some places, and the damage was done, placing this high-level CIA officer and his loved ones in serious danger.

What’s the crisis management lesson here? Simple – check, double check, have a trusted colleague check, then check again a few more times before publishing ANYTHING that’s going to the public. Especially in a crisis situation, you can not afford to have bad or confidential information making its way out, and believe us when we say that the news media is not going to pay your slip-up the same respect it does one from the White House and CIA. Once it’s out it will stay out, and if it makes for a juicy story you can even expect it to be amplified.

The need for rapid communication is real, but the damage you can do by putting out information you shouldn’t have is immense, so be very, very careful.

The BCM Blogging Team


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Crisis Management Quotables…on Why Hiding Doesn’t Cut It

Duck and cover is not a crisis management strategy

Leave it to a legendary college football coach to understand dealing with the media! Paul “Bear” Bryant spent 25 years as the University of Alabama’s head coach, amassing an absolutely incredible 323-85-17 record and chalking up an immense number of press interactions on the way, stats we think qualify him to deliver this week’s Crisis Management Quotable:

“In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.” — Bear Bryant

We’d bet Bryant would be astounded, and probably quite satisfied, to see that his statement is true today to an extent he could have never imagined.

The media has always been quite tenacious when it comes to uncovering a crisis, but now they’re not the only ones chasing the latest scandal. Thanks in large part to social media, and of course the ‘net in general, there are legions of amateur e-reporters out there hungry for the next big story to share. They will dig up dirt, they will figure out who’s responsible, and if you duck for cover until you’re forced into the open you’ll be left with an even bigger crisis management hole to dig yourself out of.

Erik Bernstein
Social Media Manager
Bernstein Crisis Management

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