Q&A with Cyndy Hoenig
Communications policy can avert crisis in response to market issue
Q: Lack of crisis communications easily can turn a minor situation into a full-scale disaster, tarnishing a company's customer and stakeholder perception, sales and share price. How can you protect that reputation and, if the worst happens, defend it?
A: First, it is crucial you have a communications policy that includes a process for tracking and responding to market issues effectively. A crisis can often be averted if you anticipate what's happening out there, rather than being forced to react to it. The policy should include a system for ensuring that the communications department and their agencies are quickly apprised of any developments to ensure you're all on the same page.
Q: How do you take control of a crisis?
A: Own it from the start. Although it's very rare that you can change negative opinion, you can contain and minimize it if you take control early and hopefully defuse the situation. Ideally, have one spokesperson to deal with media interviews but produce written statements where possible, so your company representative doesn't deviate from what you want them to say. A question-and-answer document, setting out the company stance and providing strict guidelines for comment, will ensure one single, consistent message is communicated. Keep statements factual and succinct, saying why the situation has arisen and what is being done about it. Honesty is the best policy and appearing to be open will keep the media on your side. Never refuse to do an interview and never admit liability or speculate.
Q: Why is it important to keep responses simple?
A: So they are easy to understand and there's no chance of them being misunderstood. Don't dilute your point by losing focus — keep to no more than three key messages to ensure your position is communicated correctly and understood by your market.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER