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Crisis Communications Part 2: Sending out an SOS

Developing your firm’s position on responding to a crisis: Message

Since this series started out with a song title, thought we’d continue with the music theme. When you’re in the midst of a crisis situation, you may well feel like sending out an SOS (maybe a few of them!).

In the last post, Just Another Tricky Day , I wrote about the timing principle. We’re shifting gears to the message, perhaps the most critical piece of the crisis communications puzzle.

You might be wondering how you can possibly be prepared from a message standpoint without actually being in the middle of the crisis. While you may not have all the facts and figures at the moment, you can establish a few guardrails. Here are some questions to think about:

How transparent are you going to be? This one is a biggie. And your compliance and legal departments will likely have some opinions. In general, the most trusted businesses and brands do have a high degree of transparency—in good times and bad. The more you can share the better (as long as it is factually accurate of course). Clients appreciate knowing what is going on, and when a problem is going to be resolved.

Will you offer an apology? This is sometimes a matter of corporate culture. One way to approach the decision is to look at the nature of the crisis (or error). If the situation is a result of a third-party (or an industry-wide issue) it may not be necessary to apologize. But in the case where the problem is clearly at your firm level, then you may want to apologize up front. In both cases, empathizing with the client is critical.

What kind of language will you use? This is not the time to be heavy-handed with industry jargon and terminology. Plain English with easy to understand terms will not only put your client more at ease, but it may also take the pressure off your frontlines from clients not having to call in for an explanation. Any next steps the client needs to take should be clear and easy to act on. Try to anticipate client questions, and perhaps publish a FAQs document along with your initial message.

What scenarios can you plan for now? While no crisis is exactly the same, there are some common situations that may come up. A data incident of some kind seems to be the new normal these days. Whether an issue happens at your own firm, or with a third-party, you’ll want to give some thought to how you’d respond. Will you offer clients some form of additional protection, such as complimentary credit monitoring? Or what if one of your locations is struck by a natural disaster? What will your message be and how will you get it out to impacted clients?