Several years ago, I hosted a panel discussion for yachting professionals about the importance of crisis communications. I called it “Crisis Communications: When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies.” Typically, unforeseen emergencies or outright disasters caught industry players unprepared for the onslaught of media attention—especially social media attention—and inquiries. The panelists all carefully explained their experiences in handling these situations, and how getting caught off guard leaves you racing to try to repair your image, well after the rumor mill has already taken control of the narrative.
The lessons from that discussion are even more applicable today, with the sanctions against Russians close to Vladimir Putin impacting yachting. So far, most of the companies I’ve contacted for commentary about a yacht arrested or detained at their facilities have responded quickly with statements. Even just a few years ago, this likely wouldn’t have happened. Still, though, some companies don’t seem prepared. Here are some of the outstanding tips from the crisis-communications pros.
- Create a crisis-communications plan. Waiting until an emergency hits is too late to decide what to do and say. Take the time now to plan, calmly. Firstly, decide which personnel from which departments should participate. For example, your marketing team or your external public relations team should be involved, as should your executives. Next, prepare basic statements to release to media—and even customers, if relevant. For example, for legal investigations, consider something like “We are complying with applicable laws and regulations.” For matters pertaining to employee complaints gone public, “We are investigating the matter and take allegations such as these seriously.”
- “No comment” is better than no comment at all. Ignoring phone and email requests for comment make you look like you have something to hide. Furthermore, they lead to articles mentioning things like, “Repeated requests for commentary went unanswered,” which gives the public the same impression. Instead, a simple “We cannot comment on the situation” or even just “No comment” at the very least acknowledges the inquiries.
- Leverage a seeming crisis for good. A few years ago, Pendennis shipyard became a social media star for a most embarrassing reason. A passerby saw one of its service vans with the side door open, partially obscuring letters in its name. He couldn’t help but laugh at how “Pendennis” became… well, let’s just say a part of the male anatomy. So, he did what nearly everyone does these days: snapped a picture with his mobile phone and shared it on social media. As the saying goes, the photo went viral. Pendennis quickly jumped into action: It gathered a few executives in front of a similarly open van and shot a video, shared on YouTube. Pendennis wrote, “we’d like use the publicity we’ve received to raise awareness of a local charity that promotes awareness of testicular cancer.” It linked to that charity, too, and raised more money for the organization than ordinarily would have come.