Crisis Management: What to do when you know it’s going to be bad news

Hannah Cambridge, Director

I hate to admit it, but comms alone can’t fix a really bad business issue.

You’ll know the kind – when it would be fair for a regulator to come down hard, when you’re completely going against the popular opinion or when you were just in the wrong.

We help our clients to navigate all types of issues. Our latest Authenticity Gap research for 2021 placed data security and data privacy as the top two issues most important to consumers and the issues they also want action on.

Can you do anything to protect reputation when the you-know-what is going to hit the proverbial fan?

Crisis Management — Things to consider

What you do will change for each client and issue, but here are some things to consider when you are communicating during a crisis:

News waves – if it’s going to be bad, let it be bad once. Don’t let your response (or lack of) create a ‘new’ news wave. Rip the band-aid off and then get back on track.

Prep your stakeholders – Sometimes this means warning them of the bad news incoming but sometimes it may just be about reinforcing the positive before the news hits.

Identify what your stakeholders care about and give them the answers before they’ve even asked the questions. When your audience hears the news, you want it to be on a foundation of trust, positivity and understanding.

Values – did you go against them at the time of the incident and how have you instilled or reinforced them since? If your employees didn’t even know you had values before, do they live and breathe them now?

You can’t underestimate the importance of your organisation’s values in crisis management.

Don’t be afraid of the media – If you know they will be interested, have a strategy in place. Where you have warned that bad news is coming, consider engaging earlier with key media.

There’s a lot to be said for making sure they are informed in the right way, that they know the difference between fact and speculation or at the very least, who to come to with their questions. Avoid “they didn’t respond to our request for comment”.

Risk tolerance – Think about the risk tolerance of your brand and audience then think about the issue and what is appropriate. For example, where there may have been injury or fatality, lean towards low risk.

However, there are some issues where a creative response is definitely worth considering.

Seek external advice – When you’re involved in an issue yourself, it’s entirely understandable that sometimes it’s difficult to look up and out.

Crisis management experts can help by assessing the full situation, understanding the business strategy (and legal approach, if relevant), appreciating what you feel is most important and working with you to build a communications strategy that can work for you and your audience.

We’ve supported clients through ransomware incidents, workplace fatalities, inquests and inquiries, multi-market product recalls, and wholesale working-culture failings.

In the face of bad news, it’s not a case that there’s ‘nothing we can do’ – there is always something that can be done to help mitigate the impact on reputation.

For immediate assistance in the UK,  our crisis team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can use this form or call +44-208-618-1736.

For assistance outside of the UK, please use this form where you will be connected with FleishmanHillard’s regional crisis leads.

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