Could You Survive A P.R. Shipwreck?

It seems like every day brings a new horror story in the news, around healthcare gone terribly wrong. A nursing home patient is abused by staff members who put videos of the abuse on the Internet. Hospice management is accused of fiscal misdoings, even outright fraud. A nurse administers the wrong medication with fatal results. These are the kinds of public relations nightmares that trouble the sleep of those of us in management. We’ve seen it happen to colleagues; we’ve seen respected and valued institutions run up on the rocks because of these kinds of unforced errors. And we know that no matter how tight a ship we run, it could happen to us.

Bad things will happen - even in the very best-run organizations. Other than being the most conscientious leader you can be, how can you protect your organization from the kind of damage incidents like this can cause?

1. Experts tell us the best way to handle a crisis is to be prepared for it – to plan  out a response before anything has happened. Form a crisis management team among your leadership out ahead of any problems, and meet with them on a regular basis. Use these meetings to examine others’ crisis responses: how they managed them, and what you can learn from what they did right or wrong. Spitball potential scenarios and how your organization should respond in each case.         

2. Chose who should be the public face and spokesperson for your organization if and when a crisis does hit - and make sure that person is the only one delivering your message. This may or may not be the head of your organization, but it needs to be someone who is comfortable and poised speaking in public, who understands the issues, and who isn’t flustered by cameras.              

3. When a disaster hits, meet with your crisis management team to craft a brief formal statement - and stick to it. Use that language across all your channels of communication. Make sure your message goes out to all your board members, your employees, and your clients/customers, quickly and uniformly. Whether that means via emails, texts, or phone calls, have the means at hand to reach everyone expeditiously and fast. Don’t wait until you need it to figure out the best way to disseminate your message; have that mechanism in place.                

4. If an apology is warranted, make it - not excuses. Apologize without equivocation, and sooner rather than later. Express remorse clearly and acknowledge what went wrong.

5. Monitor social media and make sure that your institutional message is going out in response to whatever is being said about your organization.

So often we see that the difference between those who survive a crisis and those who do not is simply being prepared. Taking these steps ahead of need is like having a survival kit and plenty of fresh batteries when you live in hurricane country. You don’t know when you’ll need it, but if and when you do, you’ll be ready and grateful it’s there.


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