When things go wrong, it is human nature to want to fix them as quickly as possible. We say “I’m sorry,” hoping that the apology—and the implied admission of wrong-doing—will settle the waters and we can go on with our lives.
As communicators, this instinct carries over into our professional lives as well. When a company finds itself in the middle of a crisis, its reputation is at stake, and all anyone wants to do is mitigate the effects of the crisis. Everyone recognizes what went wrong, and they just want to make it better. So they put their executive leadership up in front of the media and the public and—you guessed it—they say, “I’m sorry.”
But what if an apology is not always the best approach?
In a crisis situation, PR pros need to take a step back and evaluate before taking any action. When crafting a response, first and foremost, be honest. If the company is at fault, of course it should admit it. Sometimes, though, people and businesses get caught up in crises that they really had no control over.
The following are examples of alternative methods for responses:
- Denial. If your company had nothing to do with the situation, it’s okay to say so. And if you know who is responsible, go ahead and shift the blame.
- Evasion of responsibility. Your company was involved, but is not to blame. Maybe it was an accident, or the cause of the crisis could be related to the company’s lack of knowledge or control. For instance, airlines often face crisis situations due to mass cancellations as a result of weather conditions–stranding people at airports and leaving others stuck on runways for hours. While the airlines acknowledge their roles in these scenarios and do the best they can for their customers, they always reiterate in their key messages that they cannot control the weather. Customers may want to blame Delta, but they can really only blame Mother Nature.
- Reduce offensiveness. With this method, the company acknowledges the crisis, but makes a concerted effort to strengthen positive feelings toward the organization to help offset the negative feelings associated with the crisis. To do this, your company might want to compensate those who have been affected by the crisis, or you may compare (and therefore distinguish) your event from similar, but more severe, cases. Or, if the situation warrants such a response, you could choose to go on the defensive and attack the merits of your accuser.
- Corrective action. You start by communicating your intent to correct what went wrong, as well as the steps you are taking to ensure it will not happen again.
In determining the most appropriate response for a particular crisis, it’s important to know that you can’t force-fit any given situation into one of these categories. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” response to a crisis. Some crises may even require a combination of the above responses.
Being prepared with your options and knowing your crisis response process will help you navigate the situation successfully—which is why it is critical to have a comprehensive crisis management plan in place, and to review it often. At Martino Flynn, we can help our clients do just that with our crisis planning workshop, which takes a closer look at the information above, and walks you through how to effectively prepare for and manage a crisis.
If you have questions or would like more information about Martino Flynn’s crisis planning workshop, please contact Ray Martino at (585) 421-0100.
(Source: Adapted from William L. Benoit’s Image Restoration Theory)