Everyone knows there is potential for environmental safety, health or another kind of problem in today’s world.What people won’t accept is that you weren’t prepared to deal with it.
Everyone knows there is potential for environmental safety, health or another kind of problem in today’s world.What people won’t accept is that you weren’t prepared to deal with it.
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
IDENTIFY POTENTIAL ISSUES: CRISIS, HAZARD, OR OUTRAGE, AND DEVELOP A RESPONSE PLAN.
BUILD AND TRAIN YOUR CRISIS RESPONSE TEAM NOW, ENSURING EVERYONE KNOWS THE PLAN.
ESTABLISH AND DISTRIBUTE COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS, CONTACT LISTS, LOG IN INFORMATION, AND EMAIL/TEXT GROUPS.
CREATE A WEBPAGE WHERE YOU CAN DIRECT PEOPLE DURING A CRISIS.
INCLUDE FACTS ABOUT YOUR COMPANY, WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU DO, AND UPDATE THE WEBPAGE FREQUENTLY THROUGHOUT THE SITUATION.
Summing up his crisis communications strategy, John Davies reviews his checklist for communicating during a crisis. A review of the strategies discussed in the previous seven episodes is punctuated with a few important final tips. Don’t miss the final episode outlining John’s practical approach to effectively communicating when times are tough.
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 final episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: The Final Episode
Mark: Welcome to the final episode of Crisis Communications with John Davies. I'm Mark Sylvester. Now, let's get started and talk with John.
Mark: Welcome back to the show. John, this is the last episode of this series on crisis communications. We've done a real deep dive, and the shows are very conversational. I thought that what we should do with this last episode is get really succinct. So, I'm thinking maybe the listener wants to get a piece of paper and take notes, because we're really gonna get down and be super crisp.
John: I think it's a good idea. I think we wandered around, we told stories. We unpacked a lot of things. And it seems sort of funny, because the first episode we said, "There's a lot of people that have checklist, and there's a lot of checklist out there, and we want to do something different." But I think we also need to do the checklist.
Mark: We absolutely do. I want to talk about checklists and just kind of get an update, and then kind of dive in just a little bit. It's good to hear these again. Let's just start at the top. What's a crisis?
John: That's sort of crazy, right?
John: It should be pretty clear what a crisis is, but it's not always as clear. Today, you can have 20 people tweeting at you and it's not a crisis. So, what we defined as a crisis, it affects your brand equity. So, think about that for a second. "Does this affect my brand equity?" Well, 20 people tweeting to themselves doesn't affect your brand equity.
John: A potential major story picking up the tweet affects your brand equity. So, you gotta be ready for it. Is there traditional media interest? Is the social media interest on a mathematical increase? Or is it geometric increase? Is the curve gonna start moving? That means ... it's something that happens. And what's their interest? Is it mutating to other things? You can watch that. You start with one issue and it starts going to other things about your brand or about your company. So, you're like, "Uh oh. This is just coming at us in all ways. We've got to be in front of it."
Mark: So, velocity.
John: Velocity and also extent. Start in a broad, it's not just a one issue, it's your entire brand. And then the other is the most obvious, it impacts the environment in some manner. It affects public safety. There's something that can hurt some people. And it could hurt people's health.
Mark: Got it. That's the hazard piece that we talked about.
John: Exactly. And that's part of what you're gonna ... that's a real hazard. And then the other is more the outrage piece, actually, is political and regulators attention. Is the politicians, has someone grabbed on to this and is looking to get a headline? There are politicians who like to grab an issue and make that issue a big deal, because they brought it and they get to run with it.
Mark: It doesn't necessarily make it a crisis.
John: It is a crisis if they're running with it.
Mark: Got it.
John: You gotta deal with it. I think I told the story about an oil company cleaning the platform with soap. The biodegradable soap created a sheen and the sheen thought ... was supposed to be an oil. We had to respond, because one politician's calling The Wall Street Journal. And then is it an issue that cannot be brought under control within a short time period? Is something happening that you cannot control immediately, it's gonna have to play out a little bit?
Mark: And so when we check all those things off-
John: Check one of those. You check one. One of them lights up, you go, "I gotta get going. I gotta start. I've gotta get in the game." That's a crisis.
Mark: After we did the show on hazard and outrage, I had something come up in a business dealing, and I was able to just draw the axes and then plot where it was to see if it was a true crisis or not. So, I had a great example of that.
John: That's awesome. And you'll have a bill in a couple days.
Mark: Once we've identified that we have a crisis, the next checklist, so that's just a list of questions that they have. The next one is what's the overall approach?
John: The whole idea of a crisis is a state of mind that you need to get into. You need to understand what's gonna happen, but you also just need to have a frame of mind. "How am I gonna behave? Who am I?" When you face someone ... if someone's arguing you in your family, if you have the right approach, your children are fighting with you, your children aren't behaving, your adult children are having an issue ... I've just learned as a parent that sometimes it's just having the right frame of mind. That's what this is about. This is an approach. Having the right frame of mind.
Mark: So, you start there.
John: Exactly. I read a book about raising teenagers. It was given to me because I desperately needed it. And everything about the book was like, "Yeah, that's interesting. That's really ..." but it said, "As a teenager, the only thing you can control raising a teenager is your response." And so that's sort of what I want to go on the checklist for. What's your response? First is have a plan, be prepared. And field-
Mark: We talked at length about all the things to do.
John: Right. And you gotta have a plan. I think it'd be good to go through a checklist for a plan today. I think it would be good. And then, if you have a plan, and it's on the desk and it's such a good plan, it is so good. It's a beautiful binder. And it's on the CEO's desk. It's a digital file on everyone's desk, everyone's got it, and you haven't updated it in a couple years, it's not a plan. What you do is dated, so keep it updated.
John: The other approach is once you know it's a crisis, respond quickly. Don't wait to know everything, because you're never gonna know everything until you do a post mortem months or years later. So, respond quickly. Third is, sort of from the teenage kids, is be authentic. Be authentic. Don't ... You watch people facing personal crisis or issues, and you see when they're robotic. It's hard to have a relationship with them through the tube or any place. Just be authentic. And then be authentic means, to unpack that a little bit, is have sympathy and show empathy.
John: That's an approach. That's a frame of mind. Number four is acknowledge. You've got to acknowledge if there's something bad happened, admit fault right up front. Get it over with.
Mark: You've been very consistent with acknowledge through the wind series we did, the real estate series, acknowledge is a key pillar.
John: Right. Because when you acknowledge something, you're building credibility. You're showing you have integrity. Admit fault, that something happened, there's probably something at fault. You don't have to admit the fault that those who are trying to make it into a bigger issue are saying, but you need to do it. And establish credibility by understanding who you are, what you do, and have all the materials, all the understanding what's happening. You become an authority by knowing more. And if you don't have a plan, you're never gonna know more.
John: And then last, don't stop communicating. Don't stop communicating. That's an approach.
Mark: There's no sense of over communicating.
John: It'd be impossible.
Mark: Okay, good.
John: It'd be impossible, because the number of people that usually get involved in something like this in a company or an institution, it's really, really hard to over communicate, because every communication's hard to squeeze out.
Mark: Yeah, exactly.
John: Can I get this done? Can I get that done? So, it makes it really, really-
Mark: Those are all the pieces to the overall approach.
John: Right. That's a mindset. First off is, "Do we have a crisis?" "Yeah, I think we have one." And we're in talk and planning, how to plan for what type of crisis, and then ... so, how do I have a frame of mind? Is it just your frame of mind, or do you as the leader have to set a frame of mind for everyone in the institution?
Mark: One of the things is having the team. Maybe let's talk about the outline for that plan. It's once you've said, "Hey," you realize you have it, let's pull out the plan and hopefully you've already encouraged people to dust off a plan if they have one. So, now they pull the plan out. What are the main components of that plan?
John: What I love about plans, they give you something to change.
John: If you don't have a plan, what do you change?
Mark: Nothing to change.
John: Right. You have nothing. You've got a blank piece of paper, and a blank piece of paper, when the temperature's up and your heart beat's beating a little more, and everyone's looking at you, it's really, really hard. But if you have a plan in front of you, you can start making changes. "Okay, that doesn't, that's not relevant now. We did this." In a plan, the first thing you have to do is identify a team. And we can unpack that later. Let's go through the headlines, if that's okay.
John: You identify a team. Who do you need? Who do you want? And then let's identify what are the potential crisis your institution or organization could face? What is it that you could face? You can outline those. You know why people don't do that?
Mark: That's a ... No, why don't they do that?
John: Do you really-
Mark: I remember we did the show-
John: Do you really want to-
Mark: It's being honest.
John: ... sit down in a group of people and say, "These are the greatest dangers we face." No one wants to talk about that. That hurts. That's a little depressing.
Mark: And again, this is why you do this when you're in a non-crisis mode.
Mark: So you can-
John: Well, it's also, it’s why people don't do it, because it feels like you're in the middle of a crisis while you're doing it, which is good. You get in that frame.
Mark: That's number two.
John: What are the potential crisis? And then, who do we need to talk to? It's the media knocking on your door, but who else do we need to talk to? Who are the stakeholders? Who are the target audiences? We need to then, is establish channels of communications. So, how are we gonna get the message out? Who are those that are gonna do it? Included in that is materials and tools we need to create. Then we need to start preparing pre-approved statements. Because we know what the potential crises are, so we start doing that. We can unpack that more.
Mark: This was when you were talking about actually writing press releases in advance.
John: Oh, yeah. And not just press releases. We'll unpack that some more. And then prepare a protocol for approval. Does the CEO need to see this? I've sat in crisis rooms. Does the CEO need, does Jim need to see this? Does the chair of the board need to see this? Shouldn't we run this by our major investor? "Well, he's in Hong Kong and he's asleep now."
Mark: Got it.
John: We need a protocol. And then you have to have the plan to update it as part of your plan.
John: What is a great thing with all our digital technology we have today, what could we do?
Mark: Easy to share it and get it-
John: Well, we put a tickler for 11 months out.
Mark: Time to work.
John: That says-
Mark: You're thinking it's an annual review?
John: Oh, at least. Yeah. It's a tickler to everyone on the team. One person's gonna be responsible, you know what I mean? One person's gonna say, "Yeah, we really need to do this." And the-
Mark: So, that's it. That's eight. It's the team, the potential crisis we could face, who do we need to talk to, the channels, do we have the pre-approved communications, what's the protocol for approval, and then the annual plan to update.
John: Yeah. You say there are eight. I like that you number these things for me.
Mark: Well, it keeps track.
John: All right. That's a good thing.
Mark: We've asked someone to sit and write it down, so they may have come up with more or less.
John: It would be good. They could send it back to us so we can do a checklist.
Mark: That's the main checklist. Let's break that down. Let's start with team.
John: All right. So, the team. Everyone always starts with team, "Who's gonna be the leader?" I don't know if that's all that important. In a crisis, you have a certain style of communications and it's called speaking from the center. Think about a circle of people circled around. And they're all looking at the person in the center. That's in a crisis, right? And so when that happens, no new ideas are coming in, because we don't need new ideas right now. We need people to act.
Mark: Yeah, we're responding.
John: When you're creating a plan, you need to speak from the edge. So, you go off to the edge of the circle, there's no one in the center. So, you have a coordinator, you have someone there, you have an outline. Probably the best is to have a consultant come in and do it with you and have the consultant put the plan together. But have ... it needs to be the company representatives there. I would suggest a consultant and someone from the C suite needs to be on the team. That brings reality to it.
John: You need spokespersons. And we need to do a little unpack on spokespersons in a little bit and talk about ... Need someone who is your media relations for traditional media. Who's the lead? Who's your social media lead? Who's the person that manages your Twitter account, has the keys to everything? By the way, in the plan, you want ... that person's there, but you also need to have all the keys to-
Mark: Simple stuff like login and passwords.
John: Yeah. How crazy is that? Maybe the state of Hawaii, we could do that. When they said they were gonna be under nuclear attack and that went on for 20, 30 minutes, because no one had the login to the account.
Mark: Right. Who else is on the team?
Mark: Legal, got it.
John: Someone from the legal team. Someone from the operating or technical engineering. Someone that can help unpack the details at a certain point, that can do the first draft of how we do and what we do. And then you gotta outline roles and how that's gonna play, but the idea, that's your team.
John: And there may be two, three people from a couple of the groups or whatever, but you're able to do it.
Mark: And again, on the annual review, that's pretty fluid, because people may have changed roles and things like that.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Mark: On this team, I'm guessing part of the checklist is that there's a contact sheet that everybody has, so you can ... almost like a phone tree, if you will.
John: It is.
Mark: That's kind of old school, but ...
John: I suggest that you have both an SMS ... you set up an SMS alert that you're all on the same text.
Mark: If it's gonna happen-
John: It's gonna happen that quick.
Mark: Really fast.
John: And you want something that hits people hard. And an email. And an email group that you can hit it to, and you can add. So, you want to be able to do that. Let me unpack the spokesperson. And I could go into this all day. There are people I've worked with that can stand up in front of a huge audience and kill it. And they're being videoed. They're in public, they're doing a big thing. But when they stand up without a script, in front of a camera, they start perspiring.
John: I've had people that are amazing at writing statements and press releases that can't stand in front of the audience. The spokesperson not only has to be trained, they have to have some natural gifts. That's a key that you need to do in the plan. Find that spokesperson, give them ... get backups. You've got to get that person who is quick on their feet, sort of your improv. It's almost like they have to ... they have to be able to have nonverbals that are sympathetic, empathetic, and strong. And so I think that's a real key in the plan. You don't do that later. That's your team. So, then what-
Mark: Number two.
John: Number two was what are we facing. You can go back and get into details. I can't remember what program that was, but what type of potential crisis are you facing? Is it immediate? Is it something coming at you right now and you gotta jump? What possible crisis could be there like that? So, you gotta get on that. Is it the slow burn or, as you renamed it, rolling thunder? And I like rolling thunder, so that was a great idea I had. The rolling thunder-
Mark: So, that's the time factor.
John: That's just coming, you see it coming. And then the flash, which is you've got a mob, you've got protestors, someone's coming at you. What could you face in each of those? Write the scenarios. With those scenarios, you've gotta start saying, "In each scenario, who do we have to talk to?" So, that's the next one, the audiences.
Mark: I'm kind of imagining that if I were leading such a meeting, with let's say a manufacturing company, and we're coming up with a crisis plan, they would in the first five or six minutes going around the table, they would say, "This could happen, a press could blow ..." Just think of all the things, that you just keep asking the question, "What else could happen?"
John: "What if?"
Mark: "What if? What else?"
John: What's really great is when you have the legal folks at the table, they're gonna throw out some interesting things.
Mark: I bet.
John: Engineers, technical people are really good.
Mark: Line managers.
John: They're like, "Oh, we deal with this thing every day and that could blow." Well, really?
Mark: So, it would be important to-
John: My office is 300 yards from that? Interesting things happen. But it's also a bank this could happen, someone could do this. No one's gonna get hurt, but it could happen overnight. So, you want to do those.
Mark: Okay. That's number two, which is what could the potential crisis be. The number three-
John: Think about that role playing.
Mark: I really like that. You could probably, in a couple of hours, at least get all the high level items and then parse those out and then have people-
John: You just came to, there's 100 ways to do planning, workshops and seminars. One way is to get a whole bunch of stuff already done. Walk into the room. It's so much better to work, again, from the basics out there and then go. So, jumping on the next one, the audience. How do we not have a list of the audience and have people add to it, or get more specific?
Mark: That seems like an easy one, right?
John: Yeah. For me, you print out on these big posters and you put them on the wall, and you're moving around the room, and you're writing on it. So, we're all digital now. We all want to project a PowerPoint on the screen, dim the lights and go to sleep. But the idea is a big wall with Post-It notes and writing is really helpful. Who's the audience? First off, internal/external. You got two. I just broke it out, immediately. And for each of those, at risk for the different crisis you could have, not at risk. We just broke that out into four groups. And then inside the groups, your suppliers ...
Mark: Sure, investors.
John: Your investors. Your customers. Your clients, depending on what you’re doing. Regulators. Politicians. NGOs. ENGOs. The board. Your board of directors, you have a board of directors.
John: And any type of interest groups that are out there. And I can expand that list tenfold, but that's the basics to get started.
Mark: Okay. Number four is the channels.
John: Okay. That's pretty easy, right? Is it a local issue? What's all their local media contacts? They're really hard to get to today, because there's not as many. And they're busy. And you've got to be able to know the right people and you gotta establish relationships. Then your social, your social. What are you gonna do through your social channels? It's nothing worse than having to establish social channels in the middle of a crisis. And Twitter, 25% of your Twitter following will be media interest in what you're doing, so let's make sure the media's on there.
Mark: It's interesting-
John: The media is all about Twitter.
Mark: It feels like if you want to-
John: They don't look at Facebook.
Mark: They don't look at anything else.
John: No. We have a president that figured that out. Franklin Roosevelt figured out the radio. Donald Trump figured out Twitter.
Mark: So, number five, then, is-
John: Well, one of the channels is let's have a webpage done. Let's get a webpage that we can, that is done and we can change headlines, we can change all the messaging, but it's done with your branding, with your deal-
Mark: And that's your own channel.
John: We don't want people coming to your corporate webpage direct and trying to find it. Let's get a page that you can immediately get out to people through social and through the regular media. And then next, you're gonna jump to ...
Mark: Well, that leads to the preapproved, which is perfect that you already know that you've got this webpage, because people are gonna be googling you, just thinking about all that stuff, and then it throws them right to that information.
John: Exactly. And you got it, and it's ready to go. The preapproved templates of what you're gonna say-
Mark: Got it.
John: They're things that we need to get. And part of that, the facts about what you make, the facts about what you do, so your technical operations people can help you pre prepare things that are already approved. And you don't have to get into detail.
Mark: Kind of like an FAQ, but a little different.
John: Yeah, I'm not an FAQ guy. I have two things that bothers me. FAQs that no one reads, and myths and facts.
Mark: But having that-
John: Just one thing-
Mark: ... information there-
John: Yeah, have all that stuff ready to go, headline, boom, and you got it. It's a quick statement. I'd also like to recommend if we can, we have little videos on it. Does your company have a video on what you do? Let's edit it, get it ready to go on that website to talk about what you do. And it's all prepared, ready to go. And the most important part is not just prepared, but approved.
Mark: Yeah, that-
John: You don't have time.
Mark: Exactly, because you're gonna be moving so quick, which leads to number seven, which was the protocol for approval.
Mark: Give me an example of one that doesn't work.
John: It's that the CEO has to approve it no matter what, and the CEO is in an all-day meeting on the other side of the world. And you're waiting six hours to respond. While you're responding, the media isn't coming in the front door. They're coming in the side windows, the back door, and you look unorganized, unprepared, and you've got a problem.
Mark: News cycles, just it feels like everything's changed in the last ... as we did an episode, everything's changed and everything's the same. But the time that you have to respond, sometimes you're being handed the news and being asked to respond at the same time.
John: Exactly. That's why you need a plan. Because you know your facts, you know what it is, you have a spokesperson that can get out there. The social contact lead is already on social. The traditional media is sending out a release. And we have a spokesperson out there. And you're doing it constantly, you never stop.
Mark: In the case of the CEO, because let's ... we're gonna just take the worst case. This is really bad, this thing's happened. Is the protocol for approval, "Interrupt the CEO"?
Mark: Yes. Go interrupt him, doesn't matter what he's doing, this thing, we've already established it's a crisis. We've already, all those things have checked.
John: If we're interrupting you, it's protocol. We need you now.
Mark: Got it.
John: Or the CEO needs to have a surrogate that can approve things.
Mark: There you go. there you go.
John: With a spokesperson, one of our rules is we never want the CEO ... usually don't want the president of the company to be the spokesperson.
John: Until the spokesperson that we assigned screws up. We need to raise up the level. If something goes bad, you need someone else to come in and stand there.
Mark: Yeah, and save the CEO.
John: I have some amazing videos of CEOs going on talk shows and totally blowing it, and you have no place else to go.
Mark: Exactly. No good idea. So then, number eight is the plan. As we said earlier, put in a reminder so that we will meet in 11 months and we're gonna go through this-
John: We have an agreement. We get into a little circle, we put all hands in. I'm just kidding. But we have an agreement as a group that we're going to update this in 11 months. And we calendar out a ping to go out saying, "Time to update your crisis plan."
Mark: I would encourage people to go back and listen. The shows are short. Listen to them again, because there are gonna be crises. Yet, 30% of the companies in the country that might be listening, even have a plan. And of those, 90%, it's not really a good plan. So, John-
John: It's not updated.
Mark: Knowing that a reputation can be destroyed in a minute, I mean something happens and you're not prepared for it ... I think people just say, "Are you ready?"
John: Yeah, and why aren't you ready? Why aren't you ready for something that could destroy your company in a heartbeat that you could've turned into an opportunity instead of a danger? So, the danger comes at you and you could prove how good you are, that you're on top of it. Everyone knows there's potential for environmental safety, health, or another problem in today's world. What people won't accept is you weren't prepared to deal with it.
Mark: John, one of the things, you've kind of scared me a little bit in the sense that I'm thinking about my own business, do I have a plan? The answer is no. The person who has listened to the show is a professional. They're paying attention to this. And they're just thinking, "I need some help. This sounds great, but there really isn't a place to go for help." What do they do?
John: Well, you could hire someone, you do the plan. I think you listen back through this series. Start working through it. And you have someone that you work with and they're good at crisis, bring them in, hire them. If you don't, you can call someone like us and find them. And there's firms that deal with reputation crisis that don't deal with company crisis. The idea is if you have a reputation crisis, you have an issue that you need to deal with an executive, that's a different firm than a company crisis. So, make sure you're bringing people in there that can do it, and it's not just about people ... A lot of times, you're looking for someone that'll have really good contacts with the media. That's really impossible now.
John: Because the media's changing and it's not just the media. We have to have someone who understands.
Mark: John, thank you so much. This Crisis Communications, as I've said all along, is probably the most important thing for companies to get right, because when you do it wrong, you're done. You don't get a second chance. John, thank you so much.
John: It was fun, thank you.
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.