…We have one story. We just tell it in different ways.
…We have one story. We just tell it in different ways.
The Davies Method consists of candid, clear communication aimed at achieving calm through empathetically addressing issues and consistently communicating progress towards resolution.
Takeaways and Teachable Moments
DAVIES FORMULA FOR ASSESSING RISK: HAZARD + OUTRAGE x AMOUNT OF POLITICAL OR MEDIA INTEREST.
WHEN CREATING YOUR CRISIS PLAN, IDENTIFY ALL POTENTIAL AUDIENCES.
EMPLOYEES, SHAREHOLDERS, SUPPLIERS, CLIENTS AND CUSTOMERS ARE ALL AUDIENCES.
POLITICAL AND SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS, REGULATORS, AND INDUSTRY BLOGGERS ARE ALSO IMPORTANT AUDIENCES.
TELL THE TRUTH WITH EMPATHY THAT RESONATES WITH EACH AUDIENCE.
Follow along as John Davies lays out steps for identifying potential crises, and how to plan ahead for these crises. John walks you through determining all probable audiences and how to communicate truth, while keeping in mind the fears and anxieties of each group. John discusses why empathetically addressing each audience is key to effective crisis communication.
John has spent years managing crises, both internal and external. His skill at guiding people and organizations through crisis situations has been developed through countless real-world scenarios. Every step in the Davies Method has been proven effective. The fourth episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: Who Are the Audiences?
Mark: We are listening to episode four of Crisis Communications with John Davies. I’m Mark Sylvester, now let’s get started and talk with John.
Mark: John, in our last show, we were talking about the categories of a crisis. Just to review quickly, the immediate and real, the rolling thunder, the ones that build slowly, and then the flash attack. So I know you've got this very cool formula about what are you managing. Why don't you take us through that?
John: Well, it leads to that, but it's how do you evaluate risk? Because it's sort of in that planning stage. And by the way, we're gonna talk about planning a lot.
Mark: Yeah, well, kind of the whole show, right?
John: Because at the end of the day, it's all about having a plan, and approach, and practicing, and training. And then when the real thing happens, it just happens, and you're able to deal with it.
Mark: Right, because you have a plan.
John: And so, traditionally, people looked at risk management. So how do you decide what the risk is? So the traditional risk management was the amount of hazard, the danger, times the likelihood of happening equals your risk. So if you think about it-
Mark: Okay, so we could draw that out-
John: The amount of danger. That's a simple ... I can do that math.
John: That's a simple one. So there's a gentleman who I respect a great deal in the industry. An academic. I stood in for him one year at a public affairs council full-day seminar on crisis. And of course, I came in and talked about him, and they're laughing, because he usually did the program, and I didn't know that. I was a substitute for a year. Peter Sandman.
So Peter Sandman's risk management and how to evaluate it, is hazard plus outrage equals risk. So how much danger, how much outrage. So if you compare it to the traditional one, which is the amount of hazard or danger times the likelihood of happening .... So we don't even hear likelihood here, right?
Mark: No, you don't. Right.
John: Think about it. Likelihood is gone.
Mark: Right, right.
John: So the deal is, is hazard times the outrage equals the risk.
Well, so I think that's pretty cool, but I think I live in a different world than Peter Sandman. He's a consultant and an academic. I believe that you have to add Peter's hazard plus outrage, and parenthetical, it's inside there, so that's one plus two, it's three. And then you multiply it times the amount of political or media interest, and that becomes the risk.
Because if a crisis happens in the forest and no one saw it, is it a crisis?
Mark: Probably not.
John: Right, right. And so that's the deal. So hazard plus the outrage multiplied times the interest, and the interest has to start with the media of some type. And the media can be also social digital media or a politician that wants to get reelected on it.
Mark: How do I ... again, we're pre-thinking now this. How do I gauge if that thing is going to capture the interest or not? What question should I ask myself? Because some of the unlikeliest things-
John: If I asked you, for example, do you have one, or should I not ask you? Because this is-
Mark: I'm asking you.
John: No, I'm asking you for an example. What do you mean unlikely things have happened in the past?
Mark: Well, it just seems like we major on a minor. Right? It's like they get interested in something, and it might be interested because there wasn't anything else interesting, so let's do that.
John: So let's go back to the basics. Does it impact your brand?
Mark: There you go.
John: Is it something that could impact your brand? So working for an educational institution, they were sued by former students, handful, double handful. Not for something that was really telling. So they have an internal and they have a marketing machine. If I google X institution as a potential student, and I see articles-
Mark: I read an article on that, yeah.
John: Yeah. So that's a potential deal. So the deal is that's a hazard, lawsuit, outrage by the people. If it doesn't get covered in the media, it's not a risk.
Mark: Oh, got it. Got it.
John: Think about how crazy that really is, that it's not a risk if it doesn't get covered.
Mark: So again, I'm thinking of my spreadsheet. I like to organize my stuff, and if I'm leading this workshop and figuring out all of these potential risks, then I have a column, which is, is this the kind of thing that is news ... is this breaking news or not is kind of the question you're asking.
John: Well, it doesn't even have to be breaking news.
Mark: Is it important news? It is relevant?
John: Is it news?
Mark: It is even news?
John: Is it googleable?
John: That's a word.
Mark: yeah. It is.
Mark: The Google machine is a word as well.
John: So if someone can find it on the first or second page of a Google search-
Mark: You want to pay attention.
John: Right. So if I'm looking under-
Mark: That's fair enough.
John: Mark Sylvester, and on the second page I find that someone who did a podcast series with you didn't like how it turned out and complained or sued you.
Mark: That's probably something I'd pay attention to.
John: Exactly. That's a brand problem. Is that a potential?
Mark: Yeah, sure, sure.
John: Everything's potential.
Mark: Sure, sure, sure.
John: So you got to deal with it. I think the three things we're looking at, and I think Peter Sandman was really smart. The first traditional is, if you remember, it was multiplication, hazard times likelihood.
John: Peter Sandman says hazard plus outrage so it becomes less of a deal to look at. And when I add the multiplier back in, the multiplier is based on the interest, not the likelihood of it happening.
Mark: You know what's interesting? I'm thinking of things that have blown up in the media where the outrage of ... it was a video of maybe the way a cop responded to a situation inappropriately.
Mark: And someone captured it in the passenger seat.
Mark: And there's this outrage of that. But then the multiplication effect of that thing going ... because that's what we mean by viral, right?
Mark: Like something goes viral-
John: And it doesn't have to go viral. It just has to be out there for someone else to detect. Going viral ... so viral means it naturally multiplies.
Mark: Yes, exactly. Right, right.
John: Okay. And most of those issues don't naturally multiply.
John: Someone's adding a little extra energy to it.
Mark: Oh. So is this that-
John: An accelerator. So this is an accelerator back into it. So now with anything to deal with ... let's use your story-
Mark: How do I account for that, John?
John: You've just got to plan that someone could do it. Our whole idea of planning worst case possible.
Mark: Right, right, right, right.
John: If we're going to plan. You know what? Let's just plan like nothing bad could really happen, but it might happen, and if it did happen, it's not going to be really bad. So let's be crazy.
Mark: That's not very good.
John: No. No. So no, but I've sat in the room with people-
Mark: That's the point, right?
Mark: Oh. That'll never happen.
John: Okay. So let me throw something out here, because you just hit a soft spot. I don't want to do this planning with just the PR people in a company. I want to do this planning at the highest level of the company.
Mark: Is the board involved?
John: I love board members to be involved. Okay? Management does it. But the idea is we're trying to avoid a brand-changing, company-changing deal. So we need the people at the very top to be thinking about it at the highest levels. If you don't, what it ends up being is a box checking. And I've done them. I've done them. They're awful. I usually send-
Mark: And by box checking, you mean-
John: It's like make sure we get the binder done and the digital platform.
Mark: Right. Because we're going to pass the audit, and we did that.
John: You know, one of the things is you make the highest level folks in the company realize how much danger exists out there to their brand by going through the exercise with them.
Mark: I want to go on a little side trip for you real quickly. This is thinking about that pizza company that's named after a guy, Papa John or something like that. And how would you do a plan like that where he is the brand, and we're talking about how this thing affects the brand. I think Papa John's gone a long time ago-
John: They're done. Yeah. But you're saying a company where the guy ... yeah, the brand's over.
Mark: Have you been ... again, back to the planning session. We've talked earlier about the problem might be the guy at the top of the food chain. And you said with Uber, in that earlier episode, how do we plan against that? That's going to be an uncomfortable part of that planning session. What if the guy sitting at the head of the table goes sideways on us?
Mark: Have you done that?
John: I have.
Mark: Oh my gosh.
John: But in the era now, I haven't done one with the me-too era, where you'd be talking about ... because I don't even want to bring that up. But I will tell you-
Mark: Well, I know. But you said worst case.
John: Right. I know. I did a worst-case planning session for my company. And we were doing a brainstorming, top four people really talking about what we needed to do over the next couple of years. And as I think about it, I need to do it again, because it was really ... I said, "So, I don't have an agenda today. I have a worksheet. It's an 8.5 by 11 that we're going to complete. And so here's what it is. So guys, I'm in my 60s. I fly 300,000 miles a year. It's not way out of line that something could happen to me. So if something happens to me, What's our plan? Are we prepared? So let's just say, I'm dead. Let's plan. How do you guys continue?" And there weren't any tears. I just want to make sure.
Mark: But those are tough conversations, is what we're getting to.
John: But the idea ... right. And so with this, let's say CEO, Mr. CEO had an issue. Let's say someone blamed him on something that we need to deal with. True or not true, we need to deal with it. How are we going to do this? So yeah. And that's more and more now. And the thing is, if you bring it up with a number of companies, we've heard enough, right? That we all knew this was happening.
Mark: Oh my gosh. Yep, yep, yep.
John: You bring it up, they're like, "Well, there is really something there." I don't want to be in the room for that, but you do have to plan for it."
Mark: So I love this formula. I love thinking about this. I want to now transition over to talking about the audiences. In our first show, we talked about really understanding who the audiences were and then how we're managing those relationships. So let's ... who do we need to talk to? Again, we're doing our plan, right?
John: Right. We're doing a plan, so-
Mark: We're figuring out who all the people are.
John: And my tactical side comes out too. How do we keep track of them and keep them up to date? So first off, you got to look internal, right?
Mark: Right. Okay.
John: Everyone in your company is a messenger.
John: I can make more change in society by having advocates out in a community that aren't leaders or aren't management of the company-
John: Right. Neighbors. People you're talking about. So first off, internal. So the management part of the company, the highest level managers, the line managers, the employees. All the employees. So how are we going to get to them really early?
Mark: So that's one.
John: That's one.
Mark: You know, John-
John: Are we going to do a list?
Mark: You've heard of us ... well, we'll have a list.
John: All right.
Mark: But when we think about ... you've heard of CRM, right?
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: It's a customer relationship management, so we can keep track of all of that stuff. We do that, right?
Mark: It just hit me that CRM is also a crisis relationship management.
John: Right. It just probably not as deep, but it's good. I mean, you don't have-
Mark: But it's still kind of keeping track of all those people.
John: Yeah. So if you have management, you have your employees. So would you ... who's next? Who else? Who cares?
Mark: Well, shareholders, investors.
John: Well, shareholders, investors, financers.
Mark: Yep. Right.
John: Your shareholders may be your bank in a closely held company.
Mark: Because the core concept here is does it affect the brand ... if it affects the brand, then it's going to affect-
John: Well, does it affect anything? So if you're doing something, you want your shareholders to hear from you.
Mark: Yeah. Yes.
John: And so, how are we going to get to the shareholders?
Mark: Yep, okay.
John: Okay. Who else worries about you?
Mark: I think the suppliers. Right?
John: Right. Who-
Mark: That supply chain.
John: Your supply chain.
Mark: Is it going to disrupt that?
John: Your vendors, your strategic partners. Anyone you play with. They need to hear from you. Now we're getting down to who pays you.
Mark: Yeah. My customers.
John: Your customers, your clients, your customers. Yeah. And if you're an OEM, it's the same thing. You going to deal with those customers. And then you get a little wider. You're starting to look into ... if it's an environmental one, it's a danger ... you got to get to the community. They become really important. And if the community's important, before you talk to the community-
Mark: Probably want to talk to community leaders.
John: Talk to community leaders, because the worst thing in the world is a community to know something before the leaders do.
Mark: Yeah. So you might have to get the mayor on the horn.
John: Yeah. And so we'll talk about that in a minute. And then if you're dealing with the politicians and the community leaders, then you've got another group that can shut you down pretty quickly. You've got regulators.
Mark: Oh, brother. You just show up, and there's a red flag on the door.
John: Well, and the deal is, or they put a little tag on you that you're going to get 40 inspections a year instead of 2. And they're going to watch you. Or they're going to wonder what's happening. So you going to deal with them.
And then you have the NGOs out there, right? Non-government organizations that are just local, national, international. They're everywhere. They're all over the place. So you need to have a list of them. You got your media, local, regional, national, international. You got people that are in the industry, the bloggers. So you think about a blogger group on something that is a big deal, crisis, some type of environmental health. It's brought under control really quickly. What is a group of bloggers that has a lot of influence on our society today, and that they have this list of them and groups of them at conventions? Mommy bloggers.
John: If you don't have a contact into some of these blog groups, you got to take care of it.
Mark: And we could expand that probably thinking of all the Facebook groups now with however many billion people there are.
John: Exactly. And you got to be able to play with them.
John: Think about it, though.
Mark: That's a lot of people.
John: It's a lot of people. And so you get the list. And then you got to say priority. Who has to know before anyone else? What's the channel, the phone call? Three tries-
Mark: Is there an obvious one? What do you think is the obvious number one?
John: Channel? Oh, it's different for every person.
Mark: In terms of the-
John: Every group, yeah.
Mark: Oh, got it.
John: Yeah. It's a different ... and so if you send an email to all your employees-
Mark: That email is going to get leaked.
John: Exactly. So how do you deal with it? So what can't be leaked to all your employees? I don't know. Think about it. What can't be leaked? Or it's really hard to leak? A phone call.
Mark: Oh, got it.
John: So do you have a system in-house ... which we help people set up ... do you have a system in-house where the CEO can record a message that is sent to every employee? Good afternoon. You're going to hear in the next hour that we had a situation with blah blah blah. Or that this is going to happen. I wanted you to know before it went public, or it's going public in the next half hour. And I'm sorry I couldn't talk to you individually, but I wanted to make sure you knew, and you heard it from me and my voice, which you can recognize, blah blah blah. If you have any issue, any questions, or hear anything, please call or email immediately too. That's not going to get pushed around much because it goes out.
Mark: Right, right, right.
John: And so that's a good one to get out pretty quickly.
Mark: Right. Interesting.
John: The other thing with employees, there are some crisis where you need your employees to report to work.
Mark: Or cross a line that they don't want to cross to get to work.
John: Exactly. So you've got to have a plan for that. So you go down the list. So how are we going to deal with suppliers?
Mark: And the message for each one of these is ... we talked about that earlier.
John: It's the same ... if there's a true north, every message is the true north.
Mark: What do you mean by that?
John: Well, we have one story. We just tell it in different ways. So we have empathy for our suppliers. What's the first thing a supplier's going to worry about if you're having a problem?
Mark: I'm going to lose the money.
John: Exactly. I'm not going to get paid what they owe me, or I'm going to lose a client or a customer. So the local media doesn't care about-
Mark: Or maybe it's going to blow back.
John: Right. Maybe it's their product. Yeah.
Mark: You got to think about all of that.
John: Right. And then you’ve got to be able to jump on it. To me ... I know this is really fun. The planning is really fun. Getting people to think it out. Can I tell you what's not fun? Writing it all down. Writing it all down. That's someone else's job. But what I say this for is, it's got to be simple and straight.
John: We should be able to have an infographic of the entire program.
Mark: You know what just flashed through my mind is when we're on the plane, and you live on a plane. And they say, "Here is the emergency how we get out." And someone said to me in the last week or so, "Just pay attention for the 45 seconds." And it's like, "It's just good. You've heard it a million times, but just do that." And it kind of feels like that. If you could get the crisis plan or reaction plan on that single sheet of paper that everybody ... like this is what we're going to do, and we know what's going to happen especially-
John: And we could do that.
Mark: We can.
John: Yeah, we can. We can make it simple, and then you go deeper. But you need the one deal, then you go deeper and deeper and deeper. We're real famous of walking into a meeting with a client with one sheet of paper.
Mark: You know, I love that about you guys. Right?
John: One sheet of paper.
Mark: It's big.
John: it's big. We call it a place mat. It's like a place mat. We go to meetings with clients we've had over the years. It's like we're going to have a planning meeting to plan for the next year and start doing things. And clients are used to us. We sit down, and I go, "I have a couple of place mats. I thought it'd be good to look at the last six months to look forward." And he goes, "Yeah, I know. I know." People get used to that we're going to do that. And we had a meeting with like 40 people on a crisis we're facing. It wasn't like an environmental. It was a slow-rolling, thunder ... what are we calling it?
Mark: Rolling thunder.
John: Rolling thunder. Could we have ... is that thunder enough? So what are we going to do? And it had the goal in the center and six proposed actions with no tactics to it around the outside strategies. And we spent a day with those 40 people going through that one sheet of paper. It was so great, because no one went off on tangents like you and I go off. No one went crazy. And we were able to get it done. And by the way, we lost one of the six strategies and brought in a new one. So having one piece of paper with it all, after you get all done, shows you really understand it. Right?
Mark: It is, in any plan, it's taking something that's very complex, and in any part of our business ... it's not just this. Real leadership is managing complexity and turning it into something that's ... I think of it as the poetry of our business.
John: Well, and so it's bringing order to chaos without losing the creativity.
Mark: Right. I call it cluster the chaos, actually.
John: I like that. Cluster the chaos, bringing order to chaos, without losing the creativity.
Mark: No, no, no.
John: Because with the messaging and thinking about how we're going to get to these folks, you got to be creative. How many times do we place a call to a lead shareholder on a crisis? That's a question I'm going to ask.
Mark: That's a great question.
John: Right. And do we want to leave a message?
Mark: Probably not.
Mark: I'm thinking I'll just keep calling him until I get him.
John: Hey, Mark. It's Bob, CEO of blah blah blah. I wanted to call you to talk to you about something that's taken place now, and I wanted to talk to you before you hear about it. Could you give me a call back? By the way, I'm going to try you again, because it's really important for me to talk to you.
Mark: That's a message I'll listen to.
John: Right. And so my deal is, the first time you call, you tell him you're going to call again. Because they look at their phone, and they go, "Wait a minute."
Mark: He didn't call back.
John: No. This guy called me five times and didn't leave a message. It's even worse, right?
John: So leave a message on the first call. Try a couple more times. And then finally say, "Will you please call me back?" Or "I'm going to send you an email." So one of the things that I think is important in all this, it's the message is unique, the channel of delivery is unique, and then you’ve got to understand that most of them are going to see many of the messages
Mark: So that's that true north bit, that consistency.
John: Right. So you got to be true north, which is a little off of north, from what I understand.
Mark: Depends on where you get your compass.
John: It's not exactly ... well, depends how high ... so the idea is that understand what drives each audience, what they care most about. And so that's really easy, right? It's audience one, what do they care about? It's suppliers. They're losing sales, not getting paid. We reassure them. Audience two, shareholders. This is going to be a long-term impact on the shares. Well, no. We're going to have an issue that's going to be a bubble. If you look at traditionally these, you're going to take a hit for a few weeks. Good time to buy stock. I can't say that. But the deal is that we got to talk to them.
John: The local politician.
Mark: So part of that planning then-
John: I want you to know everything, and I want you to be aware of everything. And so we worked with the owner of Neverland Ranch when Michael Jackson died. And the greatest thing that people were worried about is the family was talking about having the memorial service there, up a little two-lane country road in the middle of-
John: In the middle of a country ... that would've been absolutely crazy. You already had 57 satellite trucks-
Mark: And helicopters and all those nuts.
John: Helicopters, everything. Yeah. And that they're talking about burying him there, which the community's like, "Well, that means it's going to become-"
John: It's going to become Neverland. It's going to be Graceland. And so we had to deal with all that. So the deal is, every person had a different deal. So the politicians, things were changing daily. I talked to the local political leaders every morning at 7 a.m. and every night at 7 p.m.
Mark: That's that crisis relationship management that we talked about.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: And I see this ... war room is not the right room, but this communication central, almost like a network operation center, where you could see all of this played out in real time.
John: And the thing is today, with all the technology, we don't need as many players sitting in the room.
John: We used to have to have a lot of people to make a lot of phone calls and a lot of people to hand deliver press releases or fax them and now email. But the room is changed now.
Mark: Now that we have a plan.
John: We have a plan, we know what it is, and who's going to be in the room.
Mark: What we're going to say.
John: Who's the computer genius in the corner of the room that can make anything happen? Who's the guy that can do a graphic in 10 minutes? There's different assets you need in the room.
Mark: I love that. John, you know, one of the things that this is getting me thinking about is-
John: Having a crisis? Do you want to have one?
Mark: I want to be prepared for one.
John: All right.
Mark: And I want to understand with your experience how organizations have turned crisis into an opportunity, that whole lemon-into-lemonade deal. So can we come back and talk about that next time?
John: Well, why not?
Mark: Okay. Sounds great. Thanks, John.
Mark: Thank you for listening. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuances of John’s distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I’m Mark Sylvester, recording at the Pullstring Press studios in Santa Barbara, California.
Start here with Crisis
get the Crisis communications checklist
Check out our blog for more insights and fresh content about how to Effectively communicate when you encounter a crisis.
READ THE LATEST BLOG POST