If something happens on the job site to a temporary worker you place with a client, do you have a crisis communications plan prepared? Or is your "plan" simply that the chances of it happening are slim, and/or that you will simply deal with it appropriately if it does happen? Temps are perpetually new on the job, operating machinery or performing tasks they may not have much experience with, or training for, so their chances of being injured, or even killed, are actually several times higher than regular workers. So yes, it could happen. And if it does, you need to be ready to respond.
When 21-year-old Day Davis, of Jacksonville, Florida, got a job through a temp agency at the Bacardi rum bottling plant, he was killed before he even made it to the first break of his first shift.
At the time of the incident, Bacardi officials referred the media to the temp agency, and the temp agency referred calls to Bacardi.
While the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Bacardi Bottling Corp. with 12 alleged safety violations, the plant's health and safety manager seemed more intent on protecting the brand than protecting workers, according to reports OSHA inspectors made during their visits to the company.
The negative effect of the stories would not be long-lasting, and the the bad publicity was "only for a day."
The manager reportedly said the negative effect of the stories would not be long-lasting, and the the bad publicity was "only for a day."
Executives at Target, Carnival Cruise Lines, Lululemon and J.P. Morgan --to name a few companies who have had to deal with crisis communications this past year -- might have something different to say about that bad-news-for-a-day take.
Let's take the most recent example of a company crisis, Target Corp., when it revealed the theft of 40 million credit and debit card records.
Speaking from personal experience as a former TV news reporter and business magazine editor, Target does not have a good relationship with the media on a normal day, and these have not been normal days at the retailer.
It didn't surprise me particularly when they were slow with their first response, and not particularly open or transparent. In fact, their first media statement said the situation had "been resolved."
Really? I mean at that point the hole in the dam might have been plugged, but millions of consumers had lots of unanswered questions, so I wouldn't have said the situation was resolved. Far from it, in fact.
When it comes to crisis communications, like in every other form of communication, words create your world.
That wasn't a very good - or deliberate - choice of words for the Target spokesperson responding to this story. And when it comes to crisis communications, like in every other form of communication, words create your world.
Research on the brain by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux of New York University, and others, has found that when it comes to the battle in our brains between slower, conscious reason, and quicker, subconscious emotion and instinct, the latter wins. In other words, we “feel first and think second.”
So when it comes to these crisis stories, public perception is formed by emotion, not by reason.
Public perception is formed by emotion, not by reason.
In a book by crisis communications expert Robin Cohn called "The PR Crisis Bible," under the heading of "Show & Tell," she says when problems occur, and accidents happen, people have questions, and they want answers. I will quote now from the book.
"A crisis response has to answer three basic questions: What happened? How will it affect me? What are you going to do about it? This calls for strong, clear ongoing communications on a company's part, leaving no questions unanswered. The CEO has to take center stage, emphasizing the things that are essential to telling the company's story, while the public, for it's part, has to feel they know and believe the message."
Admittedly, it is difficult, especially for a marketing-driven company, to face a phalanx of cameras and say "Sorry," “The situation stinks,”"We screwed up,""Our condolences," and so on.
But like moms have long been known for telling their kids, “It’s better to be completely honest now, and face the consequences, whatever those might be, than to find out more later.”
Moms eventually learn the truth, and so does the public, so be open and forthcoming from the start.
What else do you need to do when tragedy strikes or a response to bad news is required?
"Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth."
Communicate. Early and often, even if you are still waiting for "all the facts" to be gathered. In a developing story, the public, and the media, will give you some slack if you put out something early that later proves to be inaccurate, as long as you are making a good faith effort. Often companies try to get by with putting out the least amount of information, instead of what they should be doing, and that is delivering the most amount of information they can. "Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth."
Designate a spokesperson. One individual should be designated as the official spokesperson for your company, available 24/7 to make official statements and answer deadline media questions throughout the crisis. A backup should also be identified to fill the position in the event that the primary spokesperson is unavailable.
Designate a location. Select a place to be used as a media center. It should be some distance from the offices of the crisis communication team, spokesperson and emergency operations center to ensure that media are not privy to private conversations on the way to the restrooms, etc.
Stick to the known facts that have been gathered from reliable sources and confirmed; don't overreach and don't speculate.
Prepare a written statement. This can be used both as a script for the spokesperson as they are briefing the media, and also as a handout to distribute to the media so that you can control the message and be on the record accurately. Stick to the known facts that have been gathered from reliable sources and confirmed. Don't overreach and don't speculate. Simply showing concern for the public and/or for your workers is a simple start.
Track the media contacts. A log should be established to record all telephone calls from the media or other parties inquiring about the crisis. This will help to ensure that calls are not overlooked, and can also also help the post-crisis analysis. The contact log should contain the following information: date, time, name, outlet, questions, response required, follow-up, phone number, and other contact info.
Be quick - and consistent. With the speed of social media and the fragmentation of the mainstream media, it has become harder to control your message. That is why it's important to be proactively out in front of the story, as opposed to reacting to what others are saying, and being coordinated and consistent with the tone and messaging.
When it comes to communicating in a crisis, the real issue isn’t the initial incident itself, but how it’s handled. People don’t judge a company or organization on whether they’ve made mistakes, but rather on how they’ve tried to fix them; by their approach to the problem(s). And honesty and transparency win the day. Every day.