Sorry

sorryBy Karen Naumann, APR, Vice President at Susan Davis International

Apologies abound. From political figures, religious institutions, entertainers, corporations, there seems to be an apology issued in the public domain every week.

Crisis Response

For professional communicators, the apology is an attempt to restore the image of the entity or person, preserve the business/organization, and minimize damage after a crisis. However, simply saying “sorry” is not the proper response for every crisis as academia’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory would inform.

Before taking a message position, culpability should first be carefully considered. Ask, “Was the person or organization actual the victim? Did the situation arise through unavoidable circumstances or unknown factors?” If the answer is “yes,” then “sorry” is not the response.

  • If there is clearly another blame-worthy party, then the message positioning could shift blame to the culprit and attack the accuser of the false accusation.
  • If there is some negligible responsibility to be taken, then minimizing role and justifying choices may be the best message positioning.
  • If, however, responsibility for a tragic and avoidable situation falls with your client or organization, then “sorry” is only the beginning. Compensation to those affected and demonstrating authentic change is immediately required.

This is a simplistic framework of crisis message positioning. The content of the crisis response will likely be multi-layered.

Sometimes the foundational messaging framework is followed by necessary instructional information for those affected by the crisis. Instructional information can be actions taken to correct or mitigate the threat of the crisis for stakeholders. Also, expressions of compassion and sympathy may need to be part of the messaging, especially if there was a loss of human life.

Regardless of response message positioning selected, always be transparent, accurate and swift.

Once the Smoke Clears

The above addresses crisis response messaging. Issuing the messaging and fielding media inquiries is not the end of the crisis.

Post crisis is comprised of follow up actions and changes to avoid similar crises in the future. The benefit of time to make sense of a crisis may be an opportunity to issue a report stemming from investigations into the crisis and the actions taken to prevent another going forward.

A thorough report can set the record straight and restore faith in an organization.

The Best Offense Is a Good Defense

In the end, the best crisis is the one that never happens. Preventing crisis should be job #1 for the professional communicator.

Pre-crisis scenario building is pivotal to that risk management role. Scenario building is a strategic-planning technique that projects multiple future situations for an organization.

While there is no rigid scenario building process, the most respected models are rooted in James E. Grunig’s work. Steps to consider include:

  1. Conduct environmental scanning of stakeholders, influences, trends
  2. Identify issues emerging from environmental scan
  3. Zero in on areas of potential crisis, such as legal/regulatory, physical locations, internal employees and clientele
  4. Examine the intersection of issues, stakeholders, influences, trends, and areas of potential crisis
  5. Create response frameworks for the potential crises identified.

sorry2

Additionally, actively preparing the crisis response team for the most likely scenarios for an organization is a common initiative led by communicators. These efforts should go beyond the crisis response team to prepare the entire organization from the top down and to open dialogue that promotes deep understanding of what stakeholders think of the most probable crises.

Additionally, communicators, along with internal leadership, should proactively work toward mitigating the circumstances that may lead to the crisis in the first place.

About the Author

Karen Naumann, APR is a Vice President at Susan Davis International, a Washington D.C.-based public relations and public affairs firm. She is a member of the PRSA-NCC Board of Directors.

About prsancc

The National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) is a professional public relations organization of more than 1,400 members in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The Chapter provides professional development programs, accreditation instruction, and networking events. The Chapter also promotes public relations education through five area Public Relations Society of America Student chapters, as well as a Career Academy for inner city high school students. For more information, please visit http://www.prsa-ncc.org or call (703) 691-9212.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s