By Ryan Rauzon
Public Affairs & Media Relations
Between all of us at Summit, we have thousands of hours of combined experience helping organizations prepare for and manage a crisis. We wake up every morning and scour the news for the latest examples of crisis management success or failure.
We especially value the people who become the face of a corporate crisis response. It’s easy to find them because they’re the ones quoted in news stories or on-screen with microphones pointed at them. When a camera is pointed at a crisis communications scene, we pay close attention to what the camera is capturing.
The best crisis communicators are leaders who were prepared for the moment. The worst are those who appear to be caught by surprise or blindsided. The examples are so infamous now that you can find cringe-inducing examples on YouTube. We will provide some examples throughout this year (2023) because every crisis moment is instructive.
What is past is prologue. As we see it at Summit, we should all be learning from crisis scenarios.
But for now, know this: when smart CEOs prepare for a crisis, they typically do the following:
#1 – They conduct real soul-searching after a difficult and awkward moment of tension. They ask themselves and those around them: Why is this so tense? Does this rise to the level of a material crisis? Who is working on my team to de-escalate with honesty and good intentions? What signs do I see that our legal, communications, compliance, and HR teams collaborate well—with a positive spirit of collaboration?
#2 – The best CEOs slow down in a crisis and remain focused on the highest-order priorities of their business. They behave like the highest-performing athletes and field generals. They trust the teams they have put in place to manage a crisis so they can prioritize what is most important.
#3- Good crisis teams know how to properly distinguish a crisis from a speed bump in the normal course of daily operations. We’ve had people call us for crisis help for something as basic as a journalist called their office asking some questions. A reporter calling with questions is an ordinary course. The nature of a reporter’s questions will reveal whether a crisis is underway. How leaders slow down and choose to behave and react to those questions—that is when great crisis leaders show themselves.
#4 – Strong crisis communicators speak in clear and affirmative language, free from jargon. They avoid getting defensive and stating things in the negative (“Let me tell you what didn’t happen here,” “We did nothing wrong,” etc.). The best communications teams speak in the positive about what matters most (i.e., “Here’s what happened and here’s what we’re doing about it.” “What we’ve learned are these facts, and we’ve prioritized the following action items.” “We intend to have more communication at this day and time and will be communicating regularly in the following ways.”). The worst crisis communicators behave like ChatGPT. They use boilerplate jargon to deflect, delay and clutter what should otherwise be a moment of clarity and context.
In upcoming editions of the Summit Views newsletter, we will share YouTube videos demonstrating examples of crisis management excellence. We look forward to your engagement and encourage you to share your favorite examples with us.