Your executives don’t just provide guidance inside your organization. They are often your company’s interface with the outside world when things go wrong. Most CFOs, CEOs and others in leadership positions do not come into their position through public relations departments. Because of this, they may not have the training and experience needed to take your company successfully through crisis communications.
To help your executives protect your brand when things get tough, consider adding the following skills and training to their background:
Help them learn how to control an interview.
There’s a temptation to want to make an interview feel like a natural conversation. And, reporters can be intimidating. However, as the spokesperson for the company, your executive should be able to get your message out without getting drawn into areas where it’s better not to comment for now.
In many cases, this means learning how to speak in quotable sound bites that are likely to make it to the air. It also means becoming less uncomfortable with silences and leaving the job of filling them in the reporter’s court.
Help them build confidence and ease.
Even if your executives have a lot of experience talking in front of groups, that doesn’t always translate to coming off well on video or audio to a news audience. The tools and behaviors that are effective here are not the same as those that work when you are giving a speech to a group.
One tool that can help your executives become more natural on film is video playback. Allowing them to practice and then see how they look and sound can help them hone their technique. Over time, they will get more comfortable with media responsibilities and able to answer more fluidly.
Teach them how to smoothly handle tough questions.
During a crisis, people from the media will be seeking answers. They will often have tough questions that need to be addressed. Many executives worry about the possibility that they will freeze on the spot and be unable to answer a question in a way that provides reassurance and the information that you need to get out. Engaging in training with several hypothetical crises can help your executives gain ease in answering these sorts of questions so that, should the real thing happen, they are able to talk smoothly and easily when needed.
How to become the type of figure who is quoted.
When a crisis occurs, you want to be able to get your company’s side of the story out there. You want to be able to make stakeholders such as staff, investors and customers feel secure. Your executive’s statements at this time are one of the most important tools you have in your arsenal for this task.
The trick is speaking in short, clear and concise statements. Instead of extended explanations, your representatives should be speaking a sentence or two at a time. Doing this means that it’s easier for a journalist to pull out a quote that captures the essence of the story. News writers and producers are more likely to use these quotes when they are available to them. Making their job easier means that they make yours easier, too.
Establish your executive as a thought leader.
Sometimes, a crisis is an opportunity to come out with stronger trust in your organization. In some cases, stakeholders will be impressed by your ability to take responsibility and mitigate harm. In others, you will be treading unfamiliar ground and dealing with a specific issue for the first time. The key to both is to provide the right sort of presence when your executive talks to members of the press.
Help them learn how to keep their cool.
A CEO saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can cause a situation to escalate. Think, for instance, of BP executive Tony Hayward saying that he’d like his life back in the days after the company’s oil spill in the Gulf. The tone-deaf commentary followed the sound-bite advice, but in the worst way possible and gave people already angry at the brand a target for their ire.
While he apologized for the comment soon after, there was no undoing this and other damage to the brand.
Help them learn when to share what they think and when to be more circumspect.
A number of CEOs have shared personally held views in business journalism settings. Often, such as in the case of Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A, these views have brought the brand as a whole under fire.
Counseling executives on what statements are likely to make current and potential customers upset can go a long way toward defusing a crisis before it ever begins.
Help them develop a strong profile on social media.
Traditional news outlets like TV and print are now far from the only game in town. Many people seek information directly from companies now through CEO and other leaders social media. In fact, it is not uncommon for a Tweet or an Instagram post to be used in a more traditional news story.
By teaching your executives how to use social media more effectively, you can help them deliver the messages that are necessary when your company needs to show strong leadership in a crisis.
Teach them how to mitigate legal risk.
When your executives are helping to smooth over a crisis, the worst thing they can do is say something that can make the situation worse. This is especially important if you are in an industry with a high level of regulation or if you are publicly traded and need to answer to stockholders.
A skilled crisis management consultant and members of your legal team can explain what sorts of things it is okay to say to the media and what sorts of statements can cause you trouble.
The skills to lead an organization are not the same as the ones that are necessary to lead it publicly through a crisis. However, most executives get to where they are by being able to acquire new skills and by being flexible in the critical moment.
Working with a crisis communications consultant can help your executives get the training that they need to keep things together no matter what happens and to better protect your brand.
Let us help you.
Training your executives to be effective spokespersons for your company in the most critical of moments is an important part of protecting your organization’s brand and reputation.
We’ve built the crisis management and rapid response process for all sorts of organizations around the world – and trained their executives to be effective crisis leaders and communicators for their organizations.
Let us bring our expertise to your particular challenge. Contact us today at +1.612.235.6435 or via our contact form.