The following originally appeared in the Jan. 27th edition of PR News
It’s one of those questions that most of us hope we will never have to answer: What do you do when senior leaders of your organization step down amid allegations of wrongdoing? Since “Bridgegate,” no doubt most people are dusting off their crisis communications manuals and asking themselves this very question. Though every situation is different, I’ve pulled together the following four tips that every public relations professional should keep in mind:
• Get the facts. Okay, this one is pretty obvious but it is worth remembering that when questions arise about the behaviors of senior leaders your first responsibility is to get the facts behind what happened. Put yourself in the role of a reporter to better understand who was involved, what actually happened and why.
• Leave the echo chamber. Your best advisors may not necessarily be those who rush to your defense. Nor may other leaders within your own organization be best suited to dispense advice, given their relationships with those involved. If possible, seek counsel from outsiders who can look at the situation with a critical eye. They may not only bring a fresh perspective, but may also raise previously unasked questions and can provide a good gauge as to whether your response will resonate.
• Don’t blame your accusers. This goes hand-in-hand with recommendation #2. Try to understand the perspective of your critics and formulate your response accordingly. Remember that the long-term image and reputation of your organization (as well as your own personal brand) are at stake and though a flip response may serve immediate needs, you will be judged by how you manage the situation over the long-term.
• Don’t forget your own employees. Amidst a leadership scandal, senior leaders may initially be reluctant to communicate internally. Your job is to make sure that your internal stakeholders remain engaged, productive and understand what is being done to correct the situation. That means communicating often and ensuring that senior leaders are seen to be out in front of the situation. The worst thing that any organization can do is to turn its back on its own employees who, in the time of a crisis, could be your biggest advocates.