It could be 50 golden rules, and these are in no particular order:
1. Be available, but build in a safety valve mechanism to buy you time for thought -through responses and information.
2. Be honest, but phrase your honesty in the right way.
3. Know what to say sorry for. If you are sorry, say it early.
4. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. Of course your thoughts are with the people adversely affected by the crisis but if you don’t say it you will be judged.
5. In an age of soundbites, keep it simple. Long preambles risk the point being missed or dangerous misinterpretation.
6. Choose the appropriate spokesperson for the issue. Putting up the CEO is not always the right first step.
7. Don’t just think what you want to say. Think what people want to know. Try to make the two match.
8. Never say “no comment”. It immediately suggests guilt, fear of exposure or culpability. There are ways of engaging which don’t require you to say things you don’t want to say.
9. Make sure the language you speak is not corporate speak. Be human.
10. Don’t rely on the media alone to convey your message. Have in place established communications vehicles which you control and via which you can contact people with information about the crisis in a way which reaffirm that you are in control of events, rather than being controlled by them.
That’s just for starters…
If you have good links with the media and with others – customers, staff, suppliers, the industry in which you work, and you have a reputation for being open and honest with them, you will get a more sympathetic hearing. It’s back to the message that how well you come out of a crisis depends on how well prepared you are when you go into it. More often than not, that involves having a long-term positive reputation management programme in place via which your business has amassed enough good-will to help you through when things go wrong. When you have the day job to do, it makes sense to seek professional help here too, not to take the responsibility for reputation management from you, but to help you manage it more effectively.
And in the aftermath…
Businesses are judged not on whether they get into difficulty, but how they handle getting out of it. Continually actively and positively managing communications after the event is the very best way to ensure that your reputation suffers no lasting damage.