The most important communications strategy in a crisis, particularly in the first few hours, is to be open with the public by being available to the news media. Perception is truth and the media creates the perception following a crisis. For those who would even think of implementing a "no comment" philosophy with the media, I offer this fact: The trade journal, PR News, cites a survey that says 65 percent of the public takes "no comment" as an admission of guilt.
Here are the 10 most important rules of crisis communications:
1. Have an in-depth crisis communications plan that includes dealing with the media, the community and your employees.
2. Make sure the crisis team has been professionally trained in doing hard news interviews.
3. Name a spokesperson and two back-ups today. Do not wait for the crisis to occur.
4. Deal with the crisis head-on. Do not hide out.
5. Respond to reporters questions immediately. They expect a return call or an on-site interview within 10 minutes of the request.
6. Never lie. The big lie would be stupid but many executives tend to tell the little white lie. When you even think of telling a lie in a crisis situation, say the name "Richard Nixon."
7. Never go off the record. In a crisis there is already much confusion. Do not add to it. Tell a reporter only what you want to see on the front page of the local paper.
8. Have media kits already prepared and in the crisis room ready for distribution.
9. Practice implementing your crisis plan by going through a mock crisis once a year. Do not forget the news media element during the practice.
10. Have the Boy Scout motto nicely printed and place it on your office wall where you must look at it every day: "Be prepared."
The need for every company or organization to have a thorough crisis communications plan is summed up nicely in my favorite saying form an unknown source: "By the time you hear the thunder, its too late to build the ark!"