Communication is Essential in a Crisis

communicating with one another

by Aggie Perilli

At a recent gathering of women professionals, an associate asked me to address why communication is especially vital in a crisis, when some are tempted to turn a blind eye in the hope no one will notice.

I thought of Johnson & Johnson‘s 1982 recall of Extra-Strength Tylenol after seven people died from ingesting capsules criminally tainted with cyanide.

Following this unthinkable crime, Tylenol’s 37 percent of the $1.2 billion analgesic market dropped to 7 percent and marketers predicted the brand would never recover.

Johnson & Johnson developed tamper-resistant caplets and triple-seal packaging and invested in vigilant public relations.

Rewarded for this honesty and vigilance, within a year, 30 percent of Johnson & Johnson’s market share was restored.

Transforming Today’s Public Trust Deficit Across Industries

Around the world, decision makers who value profits over public health and safety have provoked this year’s groundswell of boycotts and protests.

Consistent honesty and vigilance are necessary to eliminate today’s trust deficit across industries.

Empathetic communication and partnerships are axes on which our world turns.

Covering up a crisis or threat at the risk of public health and safety may be criminal and eventually backfires.

Nothing is swifter than rumor, wrote Horace.

With hundreds of millions of tweets posted daily, the public might hear about your crisis from a competitor or a relative who is justifiably panicked or outraged.

Wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong.”

Develop a crisis communication plan and tailor it to your industry or audience. Be proactive and:

  • assign a communication team with essential roles and responsibilities;
  • address foreseeable contingencies; and
  • train spokespeople to keep everyone informed.

In fact, don’t wait for a crisis to open comprehensive lines of communications. Open and honest communication builds a trust surplus that inspires confidence as you:

  • identify the roots of your crisis;
  • empathize with those affected and, if warranted, apologize;
  • hold those accountable, if applicable; and
  • adopt safeguards to prevent the crisis from happening again.

In one of my previous posts, I quoted from HR Consultant Towers Watson‘s 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, Capitalizing on Effective Communication: “Those who communicate with courage, innovation and discipline, especially during times of challenge and change, are more effective at engaging employees (and customers) and achieving the desired results.”

How an organization responds to a crisis is a reflection of its integrity and reliability. Organizations that thrive long term consistently earn the public’s trust.

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