How to Say You’re Sorry, When to Say You’re Not, and What to Do if You Really Don’t Know What to Say
Your Content Strategy in Crisis Communication
This short manual was inspired by Prowly’s e-book Better Safe Than Sorry: Your Crisis Communication Plan From A to Z. Let’s add some content to the plan.
Generally, as your crisis communication would differ depending on the circumstances, there are three possible scenarios when a crisis occurs:
- you are guilty as charged (even just a little),
- not guilty at all,
- you don’t have the slightest idea what is going on and why these very bad things (as Donald Trump would call them) are happening.
Here’s a brief description of what your crisis communication should include in each of these three situations.
Being sorry is not enough
This is the worst-case scenario—you’re facing a crisis and the fault is clearly on your side (be it your personal mistake, wrong behavior of somebody on your staff, an offensive commercial, security incidents, etc.). Don’t even think about running away. If you want to save face and help your brand, what you need to do is express your deep apologies. But not only. People expect more, they will want to know what has happened and why; what steps you took to clean up the mess, and—even more importantly—what you’re doing or planning to do to prevent such situations in the future. You should also add some values and let people know about how you feel about the whole situation. Take a look at this statement from the CEO of Domino’s Pizza, Patrick Doyle, after a major crisis in 2009—it has got everything I described above.
Don’t just say “it’s not my fault”
If somebody else has caused the situation or it came as an effect of some fake news spreading like wildfire, you can’t just sit back and breathe as normal. It’s like in this old saying—no matter if you stole a bike, or the bike has been stolen from you, you have got something to do with this bicycle theft. You still need some communication content. Try to start with factual denial—that you’re not the one to blame or that the story did not happen at all—don’t hesitate to show some proof. Then, inform people about what your corporate values are and prove that they protect you against such situations. Explain what you’ve done to find out what happened and share your findings with the audience. Last but not least, present some facts on how your organization works to prevent such cases—maybe there are some specific procedures to follow?
Communicate even if you’re confused
Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that you must face a crisis but at the first moment you don’t really know what is going on. Sometimes you need time to investigate the situation, run some tests, conduct some research, or just call your staff and hear the facts. The problem is that the media don’t want to wait. And it is even worse with the social media. They want your statement right here, right now. And if you say nothing they will most likely put all the blame on you. Like Larry King wrote in his book How to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere, saying that no comment is like admitting you are guilty. So what to do, or rather, what to say? Start by admitting that you have heard the rumors and you are investigating them. Give some details on the action you’ve taken to find out the truth. Share your corporate values and while you’re on it refer to what has happened. If you have procedures in place that should have prevented such situation—present them. If you can take some extra action—do it and inform about your moves. Declare full transparency and cooperation with everybody involved in the investigation. Promise to communicate more as soon as you find out what has really happened and once you manage to solve the clue—apply one of the content strategies presented above.
Download our Crisis Communication Plan From A to Z e-book here: