13 worst crisis communication mistakes

There are 13 key elements to creating a successful crisis communications strategy. Tony Jaques provides tongue-in-cheek examples of how companies continue to get even the basics wrong.

It’s a sad fact that crisis management case studies are more often about what companies did wrong rather than what they did well.  And some organisations seem determined to follow what not to do when facing a crisis.

Tony JaquesFrom the rich buffet of crisis communication disasters, US crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein shared with my agency Managing Outcomes his tongue-in-cheek 13 rules for ensuring your crisis will flourish and grow:

1. Play Ostrich
Hope that no one learns about it. Take advice to say nothing, do nothing. And while your head is buried firmly in the sand, ignore the part that’s still exposed.

2. Only Start Work on a Potential Crisis Situation After It’s Public
Even if you don’t play ostrich, you can still nurture your developing crisis by avoiding preparation. Pre-planned and tested key messages would help communication when the crisis breaks publicly.  So always shoot from the hip.Kanye EAD douche virgin australia

3. Let Your Reputation Speak for You
Two words: Arthur Andersen.

Enron logo - wiki4. Treat the Media Like the Enemy
By all means, tell a reporter they’ve done such a bad job that you’ll never talk to them again. Or send nasty emails. The reporter is sure to get angry and really go after your organisation.

5. Get Stuck in Reaction Mode Versus Getting Proactive
When a negative story suddenly breaks, respond with a statement, then repeat the dose for each and every follow up. Don’t initiate messages and make others react to what you say. Always look like the guilty party defending yourself.

6. Use Language Your Audience Doesn’t Understand
Jargon and arcane acronyms are great ways to ensure you confuse your audiences, and make most crises worse. Try this real life gem; “We’re considering development of a SNFF or a CCRC.” Naturally the general reaction is “HUH?”

business man with his head buried in the sand

7. Don’t Listen to Your Stakeholders
Make all decisions based on your own best thinking. After all, what would your customers, employees, investors, or other stakeholders know about how to communicate with them?

8. Assume That Truth Will Triumph over All
You have the facts on your side, by golly, and you know the public will eventually come around and realise that. Disregard the fact that perception is as damaging as reality—sometimes more so.

9. Address Only Issues and Ignore Feelings
“The green goo which spilled on our property is absolutely harmless.” “Our development plans all comply with appropriate regulations.” So what if people are upset? You’re not a psychologist…right?

10. Make Only Written Statements
Face it, it’s a lot easier to just issue written statements. No fear of looking or sounding foolish. Less chance of being misquoted. Who cares if it’s impersonal and some people think it means you’re hiding and afraid.

11. Use ‘Best Guess’ Methods of Assessing Damage
“Oh my God, it’s a front page disaster. We’re ruined!”  Congratulations—you may have just made a mountain out of a molehill. Don’t bother talking to your stakeholders (See item 7) about the real impact of a crisis.

12. Ignore Social Media

You don’t have an active Facebook account, and Twitter is just for chattering idiots, yes?  Never mind that no medium in the world can destroy your reputation faster than social media.

derryn hinch ballarat bus crisis comms tweet

13. Do the Same Thing Over and Over Again Expecting Different Results
Last time you faced bad news you ignored media calls because whatever you said they’d get it wrong. Of course stakeholders got upset and it took ages to fade away. So next time you’ll do the same thing, right? Because “stuff happens” and you can’t improve the situation by better communications… can you?

Tony Jaques is the director of Issue Outcomes Pty Ltd, an agency specialising in issues and crisis management


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