Facing an entire classroom of university students, most of whom were enrolled in their respective schools as communications majors, I leaned against the podium and declared, “Crisis management is fun.”
I wasn’t done. With a grin, I finished my sentence: “…If you're doing the managing. But if you're the one who has the crisis, as we all know, it's not so fun, right?”
These students will be the future of our business, and it’s vitally important that they know exactly what they’re getting into. It was interesting to me that so many were interested in hearing about crisis management. I’ve been doing it for more than 12 years with different brands (like perennial election newsmakers Smartmatic), and I wanted to share a little bit of that experience with these students at De La Salle University’s annual Communications Conference, held last July 29 at the university’s Yuchengco Hall.
It was a frank, no-holds-barred discussion. “Crisis management is about the things we do so we can be judged less harshly when things f*** up,” I told them. When they asked about the difference between crisis management and issues management, I even compared the two to premarital sex. I had a slide with a picture of a man opening a condom—“That’s issues management.” The next slide showed a girl talking tearfully on the phone with her boyfriend, telling him about an unexpected pregnancy; “That’s crisis management,” I said. (Yes, of course I knew that De La Salle was a Catholic school.)
To close out my talk, I outlined seven important ground rules that every business should follow when they’re in the line of fire. I’d like to share these with you, as well.
Rule 1: You need to face the music.
When you face the media, you need to be prepared, you need to be accurate, you need to be timely, you need to have the facts, and you need to be consistent with your store.
Rule 2: Don't procrastinate.
Be fast. You have to be really fast when it comes to a crisis. Identify assets, liabilities, and formulate a strategy and a story.
Rule 3: Don't think that you are alone.
Get your allies to circle their wagons around you. When there is a crisis in a company, we call on our employees to help, and we tell credible experts or celebrities to vouch for us.
Rule 4: Don't just think about now.
When there is a crisis, there is a tendency for all of us to say, bahala na si Batman, basta ngayon aayusin ko ‘tong problema na ‘to ngayon. You cannot just think about now. You need to think about the future.
Rule 5: Do not think you always have to be right.
Apologize if necessary. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and you must say sorry when you make the mistake. But when you say sorry, you also explain the facts. And people don't just wait for you to say sorry. They want you to really act on your words and show action.
Rule 6: Use emotion.
Remember, we're all human. Emotion is very important. Whenever there's a crisis, you need to show that the company is human, that it's not a company of robots or piggy banks. But there is a caveat: This rule only works for the people at the top. Whenever you have a crisis, it's the people at the top who have to be the ones to face the media, to face the public. If it's not the people at the top, then the public starts saying, “Teka, may tinatago ba 'tong mga 'to? Bakit hinaharap nla yung mga nasa baba ng organisasyon?”
7. Listen, listen, listen.
Listen to the people. Remember, communication is now a two-way street because of social media—because of Facbeook, because of Twitter, because of Snapchat. And the most important thing in communication, according to Peter Drucker, is not just to listen, but to listen to what's being said. Don't just listen to the media, listen to your employees, listen to your community, and listen to your customers.
These seven rules are just the building blocks of managing crises effectively, helping shield you from the uncertainty and panic that always follow these situations. And this is what happens every time a crisis occurs: You begin to have doubt and fear. “And all of a sudden, the path isn't so clear anymore. That happens in corporations, too,” I told the students. These rules will help you rise above it all.