…great companies that prevail have prepared in the good times for the bad times.
…great companies that prevail have prepared in the good times for the bad times.
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
RISK CAN BE PROJECTED WITH A GRAPH DETERMINING LEVELS OF HAZARD AND OUTRAGE.
STRONG VALUES AND LEADERSHIP CHARACTERIZE COMPANIES THAT TURN CRISIS INTO OPPORTUNITY.
PREPARE, TRAIN AND PRACTICE FOR CRISIS.
GO DIRECTLY TO KEY AUDIENCES.DON’T RELY ON THE MEDIA ALONE TO GET YOUR MESSAGE OUT.
DON’T CREATE A CRISIS BY MANAGING HAZARD, WHILE NOT MANAGING OUTRAGE.
Begin here and follow along as John Davies explores how great companies turn crisis into opportunity. The episode outlines predicting risk, and the Davies method for preparing your company to prevail when crisis arises.
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 fifth episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: Turning Crisis into Opportunity
Mark: Welcome to the fifth episode of "Crisis Communications" with John Davies. I'm Mark Sylvester. Now, let's get started and talk with John. John, in our last episode, we were talking about this conversation being about how good organizations turn crisis into opportunity. But as I was listening to the other shows, I would love it if you could go back to the formulas we were talking about around outrage and hazard.
You had come up with a really interesting model where you said outrage, if we draw a quadrant ... so our listener could draw a little box right now, and the x-axis, that's the one going up, that's "outrage" ... and then then y-axis, that's the one going along the bottom, that's "hazard". The conversation we didn't get into is kind of mapping that out. It's really worthy of us spending a little bit of time on that.
John: It is. It really is. And by the way, we didn't talk about in the last episode, we talked about it as we were leaving. Well, that's okay ... same thing. So now the listeners know what you and I talked about as we were leaving, and so if you look at one axis, you could do either way, but I like to do "outrage" ... the x. If you look at it from low to high, and then you look at "hazard" from low to high and you break it into quadrants ...
Mark: Yep. So I've drawn that on a little piece of paper here. Our listener's following along with us.
John: Okay. I don't hear anyone scratching with their pen.
Mark: Well, see, that's the beauty of doing a podcast. We're not distracted.
John: Alright. Good.
Mark: So what's in the upper ... well, let's call it the northwest corner.
John: So let's go ... let's go through and preview them all. The closest to the starting point ... so the southwest corner ... that's low "outrage", low "hazard". If that's where you think things are, you're not having a lot of outrage, you don't have a lot of hazard. You don't have a crisis. You could create a crisis, and people do create crisis, because they start doing things, and I talked about that a little earlier ...
Mark: We've talked about that.
John: Right, and you don't wanna do that. So you go to the east from there, and so you're getting to ...
Mark: Higher hazard.
John: Higher hazard, and not a lot of outrage. You're now managing attention.
Mark: What do you mean by that? Give me an example of that.
John: Well, if there's a problem going on, there's a gas leak somewhere and people don't know about it and it hasn't blown up, you've gotta get people's attention. So the idea there that your job right then is to get people's attention, it's like, "Watch out!" You're trying to get people to focus. That's part of crisis communications.
Mark: Do you think that it would be helpful for someone to actually have this as a part of the crisis planning pack?
Mark: To have this and kind of plot out?
John: By the way, a lot of this I want to give credit to my friend Peter Sandman. A lot of this is Peter Sandman where I've developed some things more from the media point of view with him and with his work. So I want to give him credit.
Mark: So let's keep going. If we ... now let's go up the x-axis, so ...
John: Let me unpack attention management. Is that okay? Should we do it all now or come back and re-preview? Should we start over?
Mark: No. Just go for it.
John: Okay. Are you sure?
John: So if we're down in the southeast, and we're doing attention management, we're doing "Watch out!" Not a lot of outrage, but there's a problem. There's a potential hazard. So what you've got to do is get apathetic people to pay attention. Think about that, right? You've gotta get them to pay attention. How do you do that? First off, you have to have a short message, a really short message. You've gotta make it interesting, pithy ... so people pay attention to it. And you've gotta stay on message, and you've gotta keep going and you've gotta keep it out there.
Mark: So we talked earlier about how everything has changed and everything's the same ... so is there a strong social ...
John: Yes. Yes.
Mark: Got it. Got it.
John: So this is a really good one, social.
John: Okay. So what's our greatest danger here? Creating an outrage. Right? So you have to be very careful how you do it.
Mark: Right. Because we're managing attention.
John: Right. We wanna manage attention, get people not to be apathetic, get people to do something, but you don't want them angry and outraged. So think about this for a minute ... you're managing attention and trying to get people to pay attention, versus managing an outrage where there's no hazard but people are met. If you manage the wrong thing, you've got a serious problem.
Mark: Yeah, you do.
John: Right, and then you've got them both.
Mark: That's why this is so complicated.
John: Right. Right. So, thinking again, here we are ... we have the bottom. There's really no hazard to a lot of hazard. So, for over here with a lot of hazard, and on the x-axis we have the outrage ... here, we have no outrage. We need people to pay attention, or something bad could happen. They could get hurt, they could have a problem in their neighborhood. We need to deal with it.
Mark: Okay. So, what's our next quadrant?
John: By the way, I think that's all the warning signs we have in our society today.
Mark: We blow them off.
John: Well, we do because there's too many, because they're too much. It's like you rent a Superman outfit for your kid for Halloween, and have you ever seen the warning sign on it?
Mark: There's a ton.
John: You know what one of them is? "This costume does not make it possible for you to fly." I think the reason we can't get people's attention enough sometimes in these is because they're overwarned.
John: The prescription drug warnings at the end of the ads. We've all learned at 21 seconds of a prescription drug ad to tune out. We need to learn how to get pithy and good and get to the right people through the right mediums.
Mark: Because it's really important that they hear this.
John: So if you have a safety or an environmental potential danger, this has got to be part of your plan. How do we let people know there's a potential problem right now? The outrage will come later if you don't do it right.
Mark: That was a good point. Back to the plan where you said we're going to have pre-written press releases, pre-written tweets, pre-written things, and we talked about all of the different circumstances that we might need them ... so now we've added another layer which says, "Okay, is it high urgency, low hazard, high hazard, high urgency?" That's going to impact all of the messaging as well.
John: Or outrage, rather than urgency. But the deal is, What are you managing? You know the potentials, so once you do that, what will this be? If the neighbors find out about something happening here that doesn't hurt anyone but it's happening, they're going to freak out because that's what they're gonna do, or the community. That's managing an outrage.
If you're managing a hazard, it's a different deal. So, attention management is pretty tough, because you're trying to get people's attention. Then you jump across the way, you go to the northwest corner, the NW quadrant ... now you're managing outrage. That's high outrage, low hazard. So your goal is to let people vent their anger. You want to protect your brand, you want to protect your relationships and your reputation. The first thing you want to do when people are screaming about something that doesn't exist, what do you want to say?
Mark: Well, I just wanna tell them it's going to be okay.
John: Alright. What do you say, though. You're in the front of the room and they're barking at you. They're all yelling in the room, it's really loud.
Mark: You just want them to calm down.
John: Yeah, yeah. That's the number one thing that we wanna say. Take that word, write that word down if you're taking notes: "calm down". Take a great big line, red pen through it and never, ever say that.
Mark: Oh, just don't say that. But that's what you want to have happen ...
John: If your wife is really upset about something ...
Mark: You don't say, "Calm down, honey."
John: Same thing.
Mark: The impact is you want them to calm down. So what's the Jedi mind trick to get them to calm down?
John: You want them to be able to vent. Let them go. Let them go. This is across all realms.
Mark: That's kind of counter-intuitive, isn't it?
John: It's totally counter-intuitive. So you walk into the room, they're all angry ... it doesn't matter. This is a room where they think something happened that didn't. It's a room where you didn't do a good job about what you're doing, doing a real estate development or a wind farm ... any of these issues we deal with. Or ... I just faced it with a school where they're changing coaching, and the families were ... there's no hazard here. It's outrage.
John: So what's the first thing the leaders of the school wanted to do? They wanted to say, "Hey, there's no problem here." But what we did, when you go into the room ... no matter what it is, you go to the front of the room, you welcome everyone.
You say, "Thank you for coming. We want to hear everything you have to say. I just want to let you know, we're here for you tonight. We're here to listen to you, and that's all. At the end, if you'd like us to make some remarks, we will. Before we start, the restrooms are out the back door to the right. The men's rooms are out the back door to the left. Let's begin. Could you please limit yourself to two, maybe three minutes the first time you speak, so everyone gets to speak, because people may have to leave. Once we've gone through everyone who wants to speak and you have more to say, you come up and talk to us as long as you want. This is your night. We're just taking notes."
John: And you just sit there, and you nod, and smile, and take notes.
Mark: How hard it is-
John: How hard is that?
Mark: You as a PR guy, you know what you're doing, but the client who's sitting there is going ... has bitten their tongue five times.
John: Oh, it's really, really hard. I asked the woman from the California Attorney General's office that does hearings on hospital closures, and we're working on a hospital closure, and she was there five hours. And some of the testimony was just so lame, and she had the nicest, simplest, I'm not gonna get upset...
Mark: So that defuses-
John: She just defuses it because she's not gonna get upset, she's just smiling and looking at people, nodding, taking notes. And we happened to go to the same restaurant after the ugly hearing. I said, "What do you do?" She goes, "Oh, I write notes about things I need to do in the coming week. We record it all and get a transcript."
Mark: So I'm gonna ask a question a different way. You are a master of non-verbal communication, and we've talked about that in other shows. So how ... you have this room of 120 very angry people looking at you, what's your coaching to what your physicality is?
John: It's more important, because that's all you do. So that's the deal. Your non-verbal is lean forward, nod, take notes, and if you're really, really angry try to write the note without showing your face. You've got to look at people, and my number one tip is, find the person or persons hopefully in the room that seem to be calm and on your side. And look at them a lot.
Mark: Then they'll give you that reassurance, right?
John: And what you find, there's a moment where the room turns.
John: Yeah, the room will turn. So you're listening to them, you actively listen. And how do we actively listen? What do we do when we actively listen? We nod-
Mark: Look in their eyes, and nod. Yup.
John: We look at their eyes, we nod, we cock our head to a side, and we listen. And if something's really interesting and good that you want to come back to because it's helpful, that's when you look down quickly and write a note. You make sure everyone sees you write a note. We used to do it up on the wall, all the notes, and in the world we live in today you don't want to put what people are saying up on a wall. On sticky paper on a wall. You just don't want to write everything people say. And then it gets to a point near the end, and they're gonna want you to talk. Some people-
Mark: They run out of gas.
John: They run out of gas, and what happens is they'll look at you, and they'll look around the room, and someone will say, "Well?"
Mark: "What do you think?"
John: "Well?" And then-
Mark: "What are you gonna do?"
John: So what do you say? "Let me see if I truly understand your issue." Let me make sure they understand your issue. So what you-
Mark: Now I'm gonna give it back to them.
John: Exactly. So that's one of your goals while you're sitting there, is to be thinking about how you give everything back. The real things back, not the personal criticisms, not the angry edge-
John: None of the ugly rhetoric. And so you listen back, and that's it.
Mark: And they know you heard.
John: And don't you promise anything. You got it, and we're done.
Mark: Thank you very much.
John: And we'll get back to you, thank you very much.
Mark: I love that. Next quadrant.
John: The thing is you may have to do it twice.
John: You might have to do it three times. That's okay, who cares?
Mark: Yeah, it doesn't matter, right?
Mark: They want to be heard.
John: Yeah, we're doing one on a nuclear power plant, a meeting, and it got ugly. It was in a church, and the head priest of the church came over and whispered that he thought someone had a gun on one of these nights where we were just listening.
Mark: Oh my gosh!
John: Yeah, we left. Time to go. So the next one would be the northeast, that's like everything.
Mark: Yeah. So give me an example of that.
John: Well, that's an oil spill. That's a blowout of a chemical plant that had happened in the south. It's something that's seriously bad. You've got to get something going. So what's your goal? If your goal in the other one is to let people vent, get it out of their system. They want to tell you how bad you are and they want to show off in front of the media if the media is there. This one your goal is to validate the outrage. Validate the outrage. You're right! You're right. And to guide the reaction afterwards. So take the outrage and guide it into thoughtful things that can be done. And at the end of the day what you really want to do is get through it. Right?
You know those days at work or days in life, and you just need to get through it. And this you gotta get through, but you want it, if you can, the Jedi masters can take crazy outrage and guide it into something productive. So this is crisis communications.
Mark: Is there a-
John: Because the others are not crisis communications. One is attention management, one is outrage management. So what you want to do is you want to get through this, and you want to deal with it. You want to blame yourself for the problem. We had an issue, it was our issue, we will find out exactly why it happened. There's no one else to blame, this is our problem.
Mark: Is that a universal truth?
John: What's that?
Mark: It's always ... you just fall on your sword.
John: Yeah. And you've got to do it transparently and authentically.
Mark: Of course.
John: You've heard people say that it's their fault, but.
Mark: I love the “but” word.
John: There's no buts. Buts don't exist. And what happens as you go through this, there's gonna be a back and forth, there's gonna be a seesaw where people are gonna be outraged, they're gonna be scared because of the hazard. You're gonna go back and forth, so you have to deal with it.
Mark: Is there some ... so if we're ... I love this idea, the visualization of the X and Y axis where we start to reduce those, we start to see the outrage go down as the hazard is decreasing and we're moving down into the southwestern quadrant.
John: Your greatest danger is the outrage, in managing something like this. The hazard-
John: The communicator is a hazard. You've got to start being ... you gotta learn how to be a little bit wired in reverse, and I've had some clients
Mark: Whoa, whoa, whoa, what does that mean? Wired?
John: I'm gonna ... I've had clients that are just naturally that way. The hotter the room gets the cooler they get. And that's a gift. It's actually more Asian philosophy in a lot of ways, and I know you studied that, is that you're calm in the face of all this. If you can be calm. The crazier they get, and the more alarmed they are the more reassuring you are. We know, we understood what happened, we understand you're upset this happened. We are working to find out exactly what happened so it'll never happen again. And we've controlled the damage, but you have an issue.
Mark: Is there anything else on these quadrants we need to understand? Any other nuance? Because I want to ... I think what we'll do is we'll post maybe a blank one of these in the show notes.
John: Yeah, we can do that. That'll be great. I think that, like everything in this and what we're gonna talk about next I think is, how you turn a crisis into an opportunity.
John: A good company is planning ahead. Go, "Oh, well these people they're just gonna be angry the day we announce we're doing this. We're managing outrage because nothing bad is happening."
Mark: And you can predict that.
John: Exactly. And so let's deal with it. So many places, and so many times ... I mean, changing football coaches after an incredibly great season. Everyone's angry. We're dealing ... there's no danger. We know what they are, and the tendency is to go in and explain. Does anyone want to hear why you're doing it?
Mark: We want to listen.
John: They want to yell at you because you're wrong. "My son will not go to the college he wants to play great football because we don't have the right coach. We don't know who the new coach is." So you just listen. But you don't want to explain anything. When everything's getting crazy, and people are yelling at you, you can't tell them to calm down. You can't tell them to get ready. But know what you're doing, and then know how to respond. Are we listening? Or are we warning people? Think about the two farthest corners.
Mark: Right, right.
John: It's totally opposite. One is, We don't want to talk. The other one we have to talk, because no one else is.
Mark: I love that. Great way to button that up as well. So now we know that one of the things that has been thematic throughout all the shows is planning. Gotta have a plan, gotta have a plan, gotta have a plan. So I'm gonna guess that the answer to how good organizations turn crisis into opportunity is when they have a plan. But what are some of the specific things that they do that makes them prevail?
John: It's interesting, doing this. And a lot of what we do is going out into a community with something new, that really turns out knowing it's gonna be a crisis and you've got to deal with it, and you get started. So you're with a lot of different type of companies, and then with crisis that are flash attacks that you just know where it is. There's just some companies that just get through these a lot better because of who they are. And it's an incentive to be better at who you are. So one of the analogies that, a horrible analogy but I think it fits the situation is - horrible analogy, but I think it fits the situation - is in a marriage, when there's a tragedy in the family, something really, really bad and you gotta get through it. A really good marriage gets through it. It gets stronger. They're the couple you see two years later holding hands. They're still dealing with the tragedy. Then the couples that don't have a good marriage, it falls apart.
Mark: It's the same thing with an organization.
John: Same with the organization.
Mark: So what you're getting at is values.
John: So, they have ... the first thing I think is companies that get through these and really prevail, they have a fabric of values.
Mark: Got it.
John: They have really high, great caliber leaders in the true sense of a leader, an apathetic leader, a strong leader, a leader who knows when to speak from the edge and a leader who knows when to speak from the center. Speaking from the edge is a leader who is listening to everyone else with ideas and he knows how to speak ... or she knows how to speak from the center, which is when they're in a crisis. That's when you say, "This is what we are doing."
Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: They know the difference.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
John: They do it automatically-
John: But when there's a crisis, you don't go out to the edge as a leader, say, "What do you guys think we should do?"
John: You gotta say, "This is what we're doing."
Mark: Yeah. You gotta be the rock.
John: It's like, "Mark, how are you gonna do this? John, how are we gonna do this?" You work in the room. You gotta be the rock. That's what a plan takes. Great companies that prevail have prepared in the good times for the bad times.
Mark: We keep going back to the plan.
John: Oh, it's ... think about that. Good times, bad times. You anticipate, prepare, connect-
Mark: That anticipation ... we did this a couple of shows back-
Mark: The level of granularity that you're recommending-
Mark: Is pretty amazing, right?
Mark: We're thinking, "What are all the possible things that could happen?" And then, all the things that are just those crazy edge cases. Once you've thought about them, you've gotta plan.
John: Right. So it's interesting 'cause my philosophy of dealing with anything is getting your dangers, your opportunities, and strengths.
Mark: Yes. Yes.
John: That's a principle from Dan Sullivan, the strategic coach. Instead of doing a SWAT, which I never can understand what any of that means. How do you break up which one's which?
Mark: That's a different show.
John: Danger is perfect for this, right? What happens with dangers is when you put dangers on a piece of paper, you get calmer about it right?
Mark: 'Cause it's not an unknown anymore.
John : It never was an unknown. It's in the back of your head, but if you write it down on a piece of paper, it's-
Mark: Right. Okay.
John: Like, "Okay. It's real. I can deal with this."
John: Yeah. Yeah.
John: That's what we do. We have a number of steps, and I promised a checklist, Mark, didn't I?
Mark: You did. Yep.
John: I have eight in what ... how good institutions turn a crisis to opportunity.
Mark: Let's do it.
John : Do you wanna do it?
Mark: I'm ready.
John I can get really granular in the details, but I'm gonna try not to. The first one is shocking. You're gonna be shocked. It is be prepared, be ready. Have a plan-
Mark: I'm a boy scout.
John: Have a message. Control everything beforehand and then.
Mark: That's number one.
John: Train and practice.
John: Yep. Yep. Next.
John: I wanna find the person in the company who can write the detailed message, the fill-in-the-blanks on the prepared messages, and I wanna find the one who can stand in front of an audience to do it.
Mark: Well in advance.
John: They're not always the same. Well in advance. I want to put them on video and I find them. I get ... I've been hired by-
Mark: Oh, really?
John: A number of utility companies. We go in and we do them. So there are people that are amazing sitting around the table. You turn the camera on ... you don't even turn the camera on. You just have them stand in front of it and they start sweating. So, you gotta find that person.
Mark: In advance.
John: Yeah. Literally, really good companies have thought this through and they ... I've been hired just to go weed out the people who should speak and the people that shouldn't.
Mark: Just that train and practice just reminds me of the military. If they're not fighting they're training. They're always training. They're constantly training.
Mark: That's what you're suggesting.
John: How much time do firefighters put out fires?
Mark: Not much.
John: Right. How much do they practice?
Mark: The rest of the time.
John: Right. So that's the deal.
Mark: Got it. Next on our checklist.
John: Well, I could go into that one as sub, but we'll put that up on the web.
John: We keep promising these things. You better get it done.
Mark: I ... absolutely. Yes sir.
John: Okay. Then, second, we just talked about understand what you're managing. Get that in there.
John: Then, a third one is invite the media in your front door, and keep your front door open. You're gonna ask me what that means, I bet.
Mark: You know, let me see if I have this right. So, Facebook has been under intense pressure for all kinds of reasons, but I noticed that two weeks ago they had a hundred representatives of the media on campus with the senior executives, front door, open kimono, going in-
Mark: So that would be an example of what you're talking about.
John: Exactly. So what happened ... if you don't invite them in the front door, they're coming in the back door, the side doors, the windows. They're gonna drop in through the roof.
Mark: And who knows what message they're getting.
John: Right. So, what happens is people are slow to get a message out. You gotta get it out and you gotta get it out-
John: In the front door. You invite them in. You invite them in and you can say, "Hey. We don't know anything yet. We have it under control." That's news. You can't wait. If you go to ... that is three. Four is, keep the front door open at all times.
John: Don't stop communicating.
John: You've gotta keep communicating. So, "We'll be back in an hour. We'll back in two hours." You've noticed.
John: With ... in these horrible tragedies that happened. The next one is five, is if there's bad news, and bad news, and bad news, we give the bad news. The next one, which would be six, is get all the bad news out at once. Because then it's like, "What-"
Mark: Right. Don’t let it drip.
John: If you've got four things happening, get them all out. 'Cause if you do two of them and then do one more and then one more, they're like, "That place is out of control. We can't trust them."
John: Get all the bad news out all at one time.
John: So seven, see we're counting here, right?
Mark: Yes, sir.
John: Don't rely on the media alone and don't rely on social media alone. Don't rely on the bloggers alone. You gotta go directly to some key audiences.
Mark: We've already identified those-
John: We did. We talked about those-
Mark: In our plan, right.
John: Yeah. In the plan. So you-
Mark: We talked at length-
John: Wanna sure you do it.
Mark: Got it.
John: Then last-
John: Don't create a crisis. Don't create another crisis.
Mark: And you guys have done that a lot, right?
John: You got-
Mark: You said that.
John: I've just watched people create a crisis-
Mark: Oh my gosh.
John: And you're like, "That's not a crisis."
John: Now it is. You have people that are upset. Now you have a crisis.
John: A lot of times you create a crisis when you don't manage outrage, you manage a hazard.
John: You're trying to explain something that they don't really ... there's no hazard.
John: Or you're not listening.
Mark: So it kind of intuitively occurs to me that the first page of my plan is the worksheet that has a blank hazard and outrage grid on it. I can ... we can sit around and say, "Okay. Where are we on this?" That's going to then guide what our response is. Is that fair?
John: You got it. Yeah.
Mark: So, John, thank you for all of this. This was ... we got a lot done in this episode. Next, I wanna talk about ... I wanna get to the messaging, but you have this thing you call, "The Power of Why." I want to unpack that.
John: Yeah. I think it's really important. There's a lot of great literature on this in the last decade.
John: A lot of people get ... Start With Why, from Simon Sinek-
Mark: Sure. Sure. Sure.
John: And then How We Decide, which tells you why why works. These books are amazing and they're deep, but they're also ... they're really important. We've been doing this for decades and we had a great examples why it is. Let's get into it when we get back.
Mark: Next show. Let's do it. Thanks, John.
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.