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Why Every CEO Needs To Be A Skilled Crisis Communicator

By Evan Nierman, founder & CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis communications firm, and author of Amazon bestseller Crisis Averted.

Crises loom around every corner and failing to prepare can mean failing to survive. That’s why CEOs must work hand-in-hand with an integrated team of internal and external leaders to make sure crises don’t go from bad to worse. Having a crisis plan in place before one is needed is essential preparation for any company or organization.

The immediacy of social media makes it even more critical for CEOs to be ready when problems crop up. Unfavorable or false narratives can spin out of control on the internet, creating problems where they never existed. When an emergency strikes, there is little time to think. Having a crisis plan in place ahead of time simplifies decision-making and ensures the most favorable outcome possible.

Failing to prepare for crisis communication can be disastrous.

Do you have a step-by-step plan to follow if a crisis occurs? Who at your company will issue a public statement about what happened and what is being done? Do you have a company spokesperson or does your CEO plan to handle the responsibility? There isn’t a right or wrong way to handle crisis communications, but you need to have processes in place so you have a road map to follow.

Crisis preparation means assembling a skilled crisis response team composed of individuals who can remain calm under pressure and think clearly under duress. These days, the smallest mistake is likely to be shared online where it can become fodder for a virtual world of detractors who would like nothing better than to see you fail.

As CEO, what role do you play in reputation damage control?

According to the international consulting service Deloitte, among the greatest concerns for CEOs is reputation damage, which falls into two categories: failure to “[meet] stakeholder expectations” and “ineffective management response to a crisis situation.” Having a trained crisis response team in place can address both these issues.

Let’s face it: Companies’ reputations are at risk when they fail to demonstrate competency and transparency during a crisis. Reputation resilience depends on effective risk management and crisis response. However, a CEO can’t manage a crisis alone. They need the support of a trained crisis management team so they can all work together to address emergencies.

Transparency, authenticity and accountability matter.

When a crisis occurs, CEOs need to understand how to mitigate damage, shore up shareholder confidence and preserve the bottom line. After all, when an emergency occurs, it’s sink or swim.

First and foremost, be honest and tell the truth. Lies have a way of catching up with you, and once you lose trust, it is extremely difficult to get it back.

If you share information, explain clearly what steps are being taken to address the situation and offer up a timeline for future action, if possible. If the company erred in some way, apologize and then move forward.

Always separate emotion from fact and learn from the mistakes of others. Prepare, practice and review your crisis response plan. And remember that social media can accelerate any crisis. Always be wary.

Be available and attentive.

CEOs should show up, speak up and listen when a crisis occurs. They are the face of their organization, and their presence can instill confidence in stakeholders who may be worried about the future. An available CEO demonstrates to employees, stakeholders and investors that they are in control and in charge.

Although a CEO may funnel communications through a company spokesperson or communications team, his or her presence is evidence of corporate concern and involvement. An involved CEO will know their crisis response team intimately, be able to facilitate key partnerships and ensure that all team members share the same vision.

In my experience, organizations with involved CEOs who demonstrate a presence of mind during a crisis tend to recover more quickly and smoothly because the dynamic instills company-wide confidence.

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