Companies that have successfully managed crisis realize that how they behave in the minutes, days, and weeks following a crisis is even more important than what actually happened. A company’s ability to successfully manage a challenging news cycle is paramount to maintaining company value.
While working in the White House during the Obama Administration, Eric Schultz was the person you wanted in the trenches with you during times of crisis. As the former White House principal deputy press secretary, Schultz helped managed the responses to Congressional oversight investigations including the Solyndra bankruptcy, the Justice Department’s Fast & Furious operation, and the Benghazi attack.
In this episode of Greymatter, I sit down with Eric to discuss relationship building with the press, why honesty is crucial during crisis (and always), and best practices to develop a credible communications response.
The news changes every day, but the relationship you’ve built up with a journalist is far more important than any one story. To develop a well-crafted communications strategy, you need to engage and develop trust-based relationships with the press. Invest time to meet with reporters that cover your industry.
Trust is everything
A company’s ability to weather a crisis is one of the largest indicators of how the company is perceived. Credibility is paramount during crisis management. Build credibility by being honest when questions come up that you are not able to speak to (due to legal or business constraints). In the moments following a crisis, determine your company’s value statement and stick to it. This statement doesn’t need to include all of the facts, but should reflect your company’s principles — and should also be something that cannot later be contradicted. Companies who weather crises the best understand that the PR narrative is meaningless unless the underlying problem is addressed.
Bring in the red team
At the White House, the communications team would often “red team” significant announcements. Lawyers, strategists, and researchers were brought together and placed on two teams to discuss different sides of the emergency. One team put together a response to the ongoing crisis. The second team, the “red team,” identified problems and vulnerabilities with the proposed response and attacked vigorously. This practice prepared the entire team to anticipate different attacks and develop corresponding answers in advance of an anticipated news cycle.
Elisa Schreiber is the marketing partner at Greylock Partners.