...in the world we live in today, you can't spin anything. You can't twist it. You've just got to be straight and tell the truth.
...in the world we live in today, you can't spin anything. You can't twist it. You've just got to be straight and tell the truth.
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
A CRISIS IS A SITUATION THAT MIGHT NEGATIVELY IMPACT BRAND, ENVIRONMENT, PUBLIC HEALTH AND/OR SAFETY
CRISES CAN BE INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO FOR CRISIS MANAGEMENT IS ANTICIPATE AND PLAN
CREATE A PREMORTEM (ONLY 30% OF COMPANIES HAVE A SOLID, CURRENT PREMORTEM)
A QUICK RESPONSE TO A RISING CRISIS, WILL PREVENT UNNECESSARY ESCALATION
Begin here and follow along as John Davies lays out the best path towards managing crisis in today's fast-paced environment. This episode is the gateway to the rest of the Davies method and provides a sneak peak of John's finely tuned strategy.
John has spent years managing crisis, 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 first episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a potential crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: Introduction to Crisis Communications
Mark: John, this conversation we've been having about crisis communications is fascinating. I love this idea of how you use your methodology that you've developed over all these years to help clients when they have something terrible happen. And I thought what we'd do is discuss and help people understand about crisis, because I know you've been doing this for years and years.
Mark: So for the next, I don't know, several weeks, let's talk about that and look at what the guiding principles are around crisis communications. Because I know you, as we've been talking, you have a completely different view than everyone else.
John: I look at so many checklists. I read everything I can on crisis. There's always something new.
John: A lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things. And there's checklist after checklist after checklist, and do it in this order or that order, talk about it this way, do it that way. And the deal is, they're missing some things. I keep thinking that when you're really in a crisis, what is it that really matters? What is it that I can share with people to focus on that's above and beyond the checklist? Which, we'll give you the checklist, because I think we've narrowed our checklists and tightened them up a little bit for people. But what can you do more? And so I'd like to share that today.
Mark: So I think the first thing is to understand how do we know it's a crisis? Right?
Mark: Because I kind of feel like they get overblown, or they get blown up, or we major on a minor, however you want to say it. How do you figure that out?
John: Well, I have some thoughts where you do it. But one of the things, we live in a time where everything's a crisis, right?
Mark: It feels like that, right?
John: Every day. And I want to get into why that is. And it's that level of fear and angst in society, that we got to take that in when evaluating whether it's a crisis or not. Because we can create a crisis for our brand or company. We can go manufacture and respond to something that no one else is doing. Think about that.
Mark: So internally generated rather than an external force something has.
John: Yeah. Something's happening, and-
Mark: Give me an example of that.
John: Well, I have to be really careful, but in a real estate deal, something was going on, and I got a call, and everyone said this is all over the place. We're getting calls from the media. I call my favorite reporter in the community and say, "Here's what's happening." Talk to him. "What do you think this is?" And he's playing dumb, like he knew something was happening. I created a crisis I had to deal with. It was a little thing, but the people that were all out of control were talking to themselves.
Mark: Got it. Got it.
John: So it was about 20 years ago. Lesson learned.
Mark: Yep, yep.
John: Is it really a crisis? So is it a crisis? Really depends. Number one for most companies: Does it impact your brand in any manner? Is your brand going to be in trouble?
Mark: So that's the first question you ask yourself.
John: That's the first question. Is this going to impact my brand? And then the other question: Is there media attention, or maybe blogger, or social media attention? And what does that mean? And what does that do? And some of the most likely industries to have crisis are people that deal with something in the environment. Is the environment or health and safety impacted at all? You got a crisis. Right?
Mark: Right off the bat. Sure.
John: There's a potential. And when you're playing off that, that's a real hazard versus an outrage, which we'll talk about later. How do you determine what type of crisis you have. This one's a hazard. Something's there. You’ve got to deal with it. And you’ve got to share with people what's happening.
Mark: When you're looking at how people deal with crisis ... I'm going to think in firms like yours, deal with crisis. What do you think is different about the way you approach it? Because you help people all the time. You're the first phone call. I know you're the first phone call.
John: Not always. Not always.
John: Sometimes we're coming in too late, and we're Red Adair, coming into ... maybe I'm aging myself a little bit.
Mark: Red Adair was the-
John: The guy that put out the big oil fire, where they're shooting up in the air.
Mark: Exactly. Yep, yep.
John: And it's like, "Wow. You're like a day late, two days late."
Mark: But what's different? Because that's what we're going to unpack.
John: Well, a lot of what it is, it has a lot to do with when we're dealing with the public affairs for real estate when oil and gas and mining projects is a message. How do you get a message, and how are you prepped, and who are you talking to, and how are you talking to them?
Mark: So a lot of the things we learn from our other shows...
John: Well, yeah, but it's applied differently, because you're applying it on the fly.
Mark: So that's another difference, right?
Mark: In our other shows, our listener can go back and listen to those. You have time. You do your research. You spend months. And here, you have hours?
John: Well, okay. So we're going to come back. That's the number one thing you have to do in a crisis, anticipate and plan. Right?
Mark: And be ready.
John: The stats are all over the place, and my experience says like 30, maybe less, of the people that are going to have a crisis sometime have a real plan to deal with it.
John: 30% of the people, companies that are going to have a crisis at some time.
Mark: Do you think that ... just stay with that for a second. So is it true that every company will or has the potential to have a crisis? Any company?
John: Yeah. Yeah. Of course.
John: Yeah. Of course.
Mark: So it could be a personnel crisis.
Mark: It could be a product failure crisis.
John: Well, it can be internal or external crisis.
John: Companies have internal crisis all the time. I've watched strategic partners that we work with on a project in the community where the owner, CEO of the company decides to take on something that no one else wants to take on and half the firm walk out. That's a crisis.
Mark: Yeah, it is.
John: That's a crisis that wasn't thought out very well how to deal with it. Right? So you asked me early, and we didn't finish. So it impacts your brand.
John: Because I think it's important to get these down. That the media or social media or bloggers are interested. Bloggers are still there. It has an impact on the environment, health, and safety.
John: The next one is really important. Are regulators or political leaders or political types interested? If they're interested, you’ve got an issue, because they're going to make it an issue even though it isn't an issue. Look at what happens in Washington now. And it's not just President Trump with his tweets. And I consider his tweets to be like the little laser pointer red dot that he makes everyone run around and chase it around the room. But the rest of the political leaders throw something up there, and it becomes an issue.
John: And something becomes a crisis that it's a minor issue if it's not brought under control in a timely manner. Right? If something happens, and you go, "I got that." And then it doesn't go anywhere. But if it keeps going on for a few days, you've got a problem. And you need to get in front of it.
Mark: Living in California, we have fires all the time. And I think there's a fire analogy here, right?
John: Well, yeah.
John: There's a big fire analogy. So when you go through it, think about what does it take for a fire to go?
Mark: Well, I need fuel.
Mark: I need air, and I need a spark, right?
John: Right. You need something to start it. So that happens in crisis. And if you look at probably the most important thing that happens in these fires is communications. Get out, get ready to get out, this neighborhood's in danger. And so the most recent fire in this community, what happened is the SMS, the texts, they were answering so many incoming calls at the emergency center and operations center, they didn't have a person to push the button to tell people where it was and to get out. Everyone in the whole county that's on the deal. And if you remember, look what happened in Hawaii. Similar thing. Someone pushed a button. They shouldn't have pushed a button.
Mark: Right. So what's the analogy in the crisis, then?
John: Get out there and communicate as early as possible.
Mark: Got it.
John: And be in front. And so how do you do the analogy of the air ... what happens? First off, media attention becomes the oxygen going into the fire.
John: The spark is the little deal. And the fuel ends up-
Mark: It's the attention, right?
John: ... the attention, yeah. And it's pounded all over.
Mark: And if you take one of those away-
John: There is a competitor that that's their whole approach to a crisis, by the way.
Mark: Oh, is it? Oh, okay.
John: You didn't read that anywhere?
Mark: No, no, no.
John: That's entirely, that is their approach. And I can't remember who it is, because I'd give credit it. But that's their entire deal with it. I think it's really cool and really cute.
Mark: Well, I'm just thinking of it from a prevention point of view, having a plan, like what's the family ... what's our plan?
John: Exactly. How we going to get out?
Mark: And as you and I have been talking, and as you just said, only 30% of the companies have a plan. John, I bet you it's lower than that. I think you're being generous.
John: Well, I think if you say a really good plan. And what goes into a good plan? And that's going to be a day we'll unpack that. But a plan on the communications department or PR person's desk is not a plan. The plan in a binder in the CEO's office is a plan.
Mark: Oh, got it.
John: That the CEO participates in.
Mark: Got it. Because it's that person's job, isn't it?
John: It is. It is.
Mark: In every case.
John: Yeah. So I had a client, a small independent oil and gas company, I think they got chewed up in part of a bigger independent oil company. And I spent a lot of time with the CEO of this company. And his first day as CEO with this small independent oil company, he was on vacation. Because he was named, and the day happened, and he was still on a family vacation. And he was supposed to really get in to work two weeks later. But he had the company little pager in his pocket, and the pager went off. And it says, "911, 911." And he's like, "Oh." And he had not really had any training of what they were doing, what their package was. So he gets to a phone, and he calls in. This is pre-everyone has three cell phones in their family. And they go, "We got a serious problem. We got a spill off the coast of California." Number one, there goes the vacation.
Mark: Right, right. Boom.
John: There goes his first year as CEO.
Mark: Because he's dealing with that.
John: Totally defined.
John: Yeah. So we came in like five months later and did a two-day communications training.
John: Well, and it's sort of like, "Okay, let's teach people how to lock the barn door." Well, the cow's are all gone and out of the meadow. And we'll have new cows.
Mark: They'll be more cows.
John: And it was good. And by the way, he used that story to tell of his sensitivity to making sure that would never happen again.
Mark: Oh, I love that.
John: It was great.
Mark: I want to get to ... we're kind of starting in the middle here of this ongoing conversation you and I have had and now inviting guests in to listen to what we're talking about. I know that you've got guiding principles around crisis, and I kind of will list them off and let the listener write them down. We'll put them in the show notes as well.
Mark: But you say ... and then I want to hear you talk about them. You say respond quickly, be authentic, admit fault, establish credibility, and don't stop communicating.
John: Yeah. And I have another one that I want to circle it with, and that is be sympathetic and have empathy for what's happening. Right?
Mark: Right. No, exactly.
John: When something impacts someone, you got to show that you actually know there's another human or family. If it's a company with major layoffs or something's going to happen, you got to show that you have empathy.
Mark: So even if you did all of these things, if you didn't have that layer of empathy around that or that persona, like people, we read that. And I know you're a master of nonverbal communication. We've had lots of conversations ... or not conversations ... about that. People read that.
John: Yes. So one case we did, and you wouldn't look at it as a crisis. It was really an opportunity. But it had the potential to be a huge crisis. So company had been in business 20, 25 years. Couple of guys started it together in college. Property management. I get a call. They're referred to us. I get a call that they want me to meet with them. So I go down, and I'm sitting in the president's office and his two VPs, and the shades are down, and everyone's talking really softly. And I go, "So, what's up, guys? What's happening?" And they said, "Well, we have all right issue coming up. We're merging, and we got to figure out how to let people know." I said, "Oh, so you're merging? So when you merge," I looked at the president. "So are you going to be like the president or the CEO of the new company?" And he goes, "Well, I'm leaving." I go, "Oh, so rule one. Tell the truth."
Mark: Not a merger.
John: It's not a merger. It's an acquisition.
Mark: It's an acquisition. Yep.
John: So who gets hurt? He goes, "What do you mean?" "Who gets hurt? Who doesn't stay?" And he goes, "Oh. Our accounting department." I said, "Well, that's a good department to be able to go, because there's so many jobs in accounting right now. I just read in the L.A. Business Journal that in the L.A. basin that people are desperate for accounting people. So they're going to get another job. What are you giving them?" "Six months." I go, "That's pretty sweet. So they could take three months off, get a job, and get double paid for three months. That's not a bad deal." He's like, "Oh." I said, "You feel guilty about this?" "I do." "What do you feel guilty about?" He goes, "Well, that I'm leaving."
Mark: He got a big paycheck.
John: He's going to get a big paycheck, yeah. I go, "Did you take the risk? Was there ever a moment when you didn't eat when you got started?" "Yeah." Were there any panics over the last 20 years?" "A lot." I said, "Well, that's why you get the reward." So we ended up putting together a package, including every step of the deal, where he had sympathy, empathy. The first group we talked to was the accounting department the morning we made the announcement. They're all called in. I said, "Is there someone in the accounting department you especially love?" And he goes, "Yeah. She's been with me from day one. She's probably-"
Mark: Start with her.
John: ... "She’s probably 70." I said, "When you go in the room, you stand next to her and make sure that you put your hand on her shoulder if you need to. Is that something you normally do?" He goes, "All the time."
John: And I go, "She probably so wants to retire. She's probably so done hanging around. She's afraid to leave you alone, because she's been with you so long." So with the whole thing, he stood up for the big meeting, stood on the table. No big podium. No big deal. I said, "Just get into the lunch room. We inform everyone, and then you have a big company lunch where you talk." He stood on the table. People couldn't stop clapping for him. And he cried his eyes out.
John: Merger done. Merger done. 100% of the staff, 100% involved, the company that was buying them, the acquisition, came by. They watched the whole thing. They were introduced, and they stayed in the back. It wasn't about them. It was about the emotional journey and the change. No crisis, because they had empathy and had sympathy.
Mark: And you got in there quick. You did all the right stuff.
John: We got to do it.
Mark: What's interesting to me in crisis communications is I think that we're so driven by the news cycle, and we think of external crisis, but there's all of the ... you just gave an example of an internal crisis-
John: Which could've been easily an external. All the employees are unhappy, they start telling the clients.
Mark: Well, and we're going to get into social. We're going to get into that in another show, because now what's going to happen if someone would've videotaped that guy standing on the thing, and that would've been on YouTube or even on Facebook Live.
John: And people would've loved it, with the crowd cheering. We did video tape it, and we sent it out to the other offices.
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
John: We would've done it live now.
Mark: What do you mean when you say establish credibility? Give me an example of that.
John: Well, what's-
Mark: In terms of the guiding principles. What does that mean?
John: Well, so first off, who are you? And what's going on? So you have to establish credibility. Who are you? And how do you create credibility with someone? Because it's instant, right? In the world we live in today, everything is-
Mark: Well, you know-
John: So how do you do it? What's the best way for me to establish credibility?
Mark: Tell me a story.
John: Tell you a story, but what does the story need to be?
Mark: Honest, sincere, show your vulnerability.
John: I need to acknowledge the truth.
Mark: Back to acknowledge.
John: Back to acknowledge. So this is the old I'm not going to tell you the pros before I tell you the cons. I'm going to tell you the cons first.
John: So in a crisis, is we have had an incident, we have had a situation-
Mark: That's the admit fault.
John: Immediately. So the credibility comes from you being there and coming back, and coming back, and coming back. And who are you? That's why having an outside spokesperson is not as good.
Mark: Bad idea.
John: I don't want to have the CEO or president as the first spokesperson, because if they screw up ... the old BP, if you remember? It was bad. The CEO. You need someone a couple layers down, so if you need to escalate to someone-
Mark: So the first responder is-
John: It should be someone that's got a good title, a VP or something, so you can go to the next level if you need to.
Mark: Oh, need to. Oh, got it.
John: Because if someone screws up, and it's the top guy, who responds? We have to fire the CEO.
Mark: So when you talk about authenticity and credibility, the word spin comes up to me. And I'm thinking how is this not spin?
John: Because in the world we live in today, you can't spin anything. Everyone can dig up. Give me 30 seconds on my iPhone in the back of the room. This is a member of the media or a union group or employee group, when you're saying something, I'm going to Google and figure out that you've just totally lied to me. You cannot spin. You can't twist it. You just got to be straight.
Mark: So spin doctors are ... that's just dying breed because of the instant access to information?
John: Well, I don't think they ever were, because think about it. Have you ever been in the Teacup ride at Disneyland?
John: Is it really fun when you spin it really hard?
Mark: Honestly, it's not.
John: No. I lost my lunch there once over on the side. Yeah. Yes. So it's not. Spinning is not good. Now, let's use another term. You can frame the issue.
Mark: Framing I'm fine with.
John: Framing's good. Spinning has never been good.
Mark: Got it.
John: It's like, "Oh, he's a spin master." Is he really? Does he work out at a spin gym? Is he at SoulCycle or something? Who is this dude? He's not a spin master. He's telling you lies, and you don't buy them.
Mark: In the next several weeks, we're going to unpack your whole approach to this. This is what I love about these shows is that we really dig into all the various techniques. So how do you respond, who do you need to talk to, how do you get the message out, how do you craft the message? These are all specific bits. And in all of the years that you've been handling these crises ... you're the veteran at this ... do you still get surprised by a client phone call?
John: I do. I do. That someone calls, and they're all uptight about something they don't need to be uptight about, one. Two, that they could get themselves in such a big mess. And the biggest surprise is the hardest thing to manage, as someone that's been doing this for a long time, is the client. And I was speaking on a crisis panel at American Association of Political Consultants. And it was the last question of the day of this panel. And it was, “What happens when your client doesn't listen to you? And there was like five of us, some really good guys. And I was the last one to speak. We're 10 minutes after the show was supposed to be over. And I said, "I can answer this quickly so we all can go to the cocktail party."
Mark: I can't wait.
John: I said, "I call them a former client." And they're like, "Well, why do you do that?" How can I help someone when they don't listen and I know they're going to fail? It doesn't mean my way is the only way, but there is a way, and there's a way not to do it. And if I take their money for them to fail, that's fraud. I'm stealing their money.
Mark: Yeah. That's an integrity issue at that point.
John: Well, it is. They're going to fail.
John: So I could come on with this podcast with you and say, "Hey, I'm really good. I failed a bunch of times because the client failed." No. I need to say, "No, I really appreciate it, and I know you sent a precheck and we were paid some in advance here, so let me get you that check, get that sent back to you. And let me give you some references." And a lot of people do exactly what you're telling them to do, and I'm not going to do that, because I don't want you to fail.
Mark: I've had to fire clients. So when you fire them, have you had the instance where they go, "John, you're right. Thank you so much for just calling me out on that, and let's find a way to make this work."
John: Almost as much as I haven't. So it's 50/50, probably.
Mark: Okay. Yeah.
John: And they're like, "Do you really believe that?" Yes. "If you're that strong about it, I got to listen to you."
Mark: So we-
John: And by the way, the higher up in the company, the more they'll listen to you. Do you get that?
Mark: Yeah. They understand the stakes.
John: Well, they understand that I really ... I always tell them, "Listen, this is not about my ego."
John: This is more about my integrity. And I do not want you to fail while I'm standing next to you holding you.
Mark: So over the next several shows as we wrap up this first one, what would you say ... because we're going to give everybody everything. They listen to all these shows, they're going to get this.
John: Is it going to be more orderly and organized than this first show, since I've been jumping all over the place?
Mark: I think you've been fine. I've been keeping you on the path. So that's my job.
John: I haven't seen a path yet.
Mark: There is a path. Our listeners are keeping track.
John: All right.
Mark: You said there's no checklist, but I love that there's a formula, there's a recipe, there's a way to do this.
Mark: So there are some things that they're going to need to do.
John: I like the term recipe. I appreciate that, because I know you're a cook and a chef. I'm a cook. You're a chef.
Mark: You know the difference?
John: I do. It's how big the hat is. And if you have your name on the white jacket, right? But there are methods and formulas, but then there also is the human nature of it, of getting in there in a really human way.
Mark: I like the way you brought it back, because we started with this idea of empathy, and that's going to be a theme across the whole thing. So what I want to talk about next when we get back together is I want to talk about how everything is changed and nothing is changed.
John: Yeah. So true.
Mark: Until next week.
John: Yeah. I'll be back here.
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