As hard as you and your employees try, no one is perfect, no product is perfect, and no service is perfect. So with social media enjoy a good rampage now and then, it’s not surprising that crises and scandals seem to abound. No one, individual or company, is exempt from the possibility of having their name ravaged — and it can happen in a matter of hours. Say the wrong thing, pass along a faulty product, or have an employee say something truly offensive while on the clock and your company is in the mud … deep!
What to do Then?
Do not sit and wait for the problem to disappear. That’s not going to happen. But what will happen if you don’t act swiftly is the scandal with grow exponentially, and you may soon be past the point of recovery. Act immediately and do it with intelligence, empathy, and sincere regret about the suffering of others. But before anything else, be honest and acknowledge the problem. Denying it only amplifies the growing crisis. You may not want to know about it yourself, but let that go and get on with the business of fixing things.
Acknowledging the problem doesn’t mean sharing every detail you know or suspect. It means saying what the problem is and if you need to, let people know that you are looking into the matter to find what caused the situation and the best way to fix it. Tell them you will be updating information as soon as you have definitive answers. Giving too much information in the beginning when all the facts are not in, it could cause more problems down the line. Problems that wouldn’t happen if you had waited until you got the facts.
If you haven’t done it prior to the problem, set up a team to deal with their areas of specialization as related to the crisis. Your media person should take the point on news releases, your HR leader should be involved if employees are part of the problem, etc. If the problem is really big, bring in an outside expert.
Consider how to help those who have been hurt, or those waiting for information about people they love. Apologize as needed. If you are concerned about legal implications of an apology, quickly run it by someone else. But don’t let the legal side of things rule out an apology if it is needed. People need to know that whatever the situation is, you feel bad about it.
Finally, present a plan on how you will address the problem or fix it. As the leader of the organization, you may even need to step-down and take the heat. If that’s needed, it probably is going to go better for you if that decision is yours instead of a board of directors or the public.
A scandal can cause a lot of damage to someone or an organization. But if you face it with honor, integrity, and alacrity, you can recover.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States