Crisis? Ask Questions

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Sometimes questions are more important than answers. In a crisis situation, you need to know the questions to ask before you have answers to questions.

This starts with the many “What ifs” that need to be asked as you develop the crisis plan or plans for your company, institution or organization. Never rush in believing you have all of the answers. You may have overlooked some important questions that need to be asked.

Fred Thompson, former managing partner of the Earle Palmer Brown public relations firm, says when you think you are in a crisis you need to ask yourself three questions:

  •  “Who has the most to gain or lose in this situation?” Prioritize the issues.
  • “Is there a fundamental misunderstanding?” A basic misunderstanding might be resolved by an explanation or presentation of the facts.
  • “Can this be ended with an apology, admission or wrongdoing or simply saying ‘we screwed up’?” This could create conflict with the legal counsel who may want to avoid any such admission or statement of regret.

Thompson believes answers to these questions will define the strategy to best deal with a situation before it turns into a crisis.

Andrew Stern, chair of Sunwest Communications, Dallas, believes in asking a number of questions before a crisis as part of being prepared. “If a crisis is ready to happen, you don’t have time to go through steps one through four. You must be prepared in advance. The plan should have a scenario so that when a potential crisis is ready to happen, every member of the team knows instinctively what to do,” says Stern. Here are some questions he asks:

  • Does the situation stand the risk of escalating in intensity?
  • How intensive can it become and how quickly?
  • What can we endure?
  • Does it present hazards to people off-site (away from the workplace)?
  • To what extent will the situation be reported by the news media?
  • To what extent will the media coverage be monitored by government agencies?
  • Will local news media call to inquire?
  • Will there be regional, national or international coverage?
  • Does the organization typically report whatever kinds of incidents occur to local, state or federal government agencies or officials?
  • Are injuries or deaths involved?
  • Will the crisis interfere with operations?
  • Will business be conducted as usual despite the situation?
  • Will people be interrupted in doing their normal duties?
  • Will work come to a halt?
  • Will outside organizations be affected?
  • Will this crisis affect the reputation and good image the company has with customers and the public?
  • Will it affect the confidence people have in the institution?
  • Will sales or products or services be impacted?
  • Did the crisis happen because of anything the company did? Or did it just happen?
  • Is the company the victim of external forces and events beyond its control?
  • What extent could the company be injured financially? Politically? Sales and profits?”

Start making a list of questions you need to ask.

Note: Rene A. Henry is vice president-public relations for Innovative Communication Corporation, a privately owned telecom and media company with operations throughout the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Belize, France, Sint Maarten, Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe and Martinique. He also is the author of six books including “You’d Better Have A Hose If You Want To Put Out the Fire – the complete guide to crisis and risk communications,” “Marketing Public Relations – the hows that make it work!” and “Offsides! – Fred Wyant’s provocative look inside the National Football League.”

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