Being childless, I’m hardly qualified to offer parenting advice so I’ll do the next best thing – share what a friend recently told me. Whenever she or one of her siblings got sick as a child, her mother would make them all sleep in the same bed, wallow in all their cooties, and not come out until they were back to normal germ levels.
Is Secretary Clinton showing signs of horror or allergies?
The White House, the CIA, the Department of Defense and whoever else was involved in the plan to kill Osama bin Laden should take the same approach. Everybody should have hunkered down in the same room, wallowed in all the details surrounding the operation and not ventured out until key questions could have accurately and consistently be answered regardless of who was doing the speaking.
Finite things like time and location shouldn’t be fodder for ambiguity. Either the guy had a weapon or he didn’t; he was either on the first floor or the third floor; his wife was either used as a human shield or she tried to shield; combat either lasted four minutes or 40 minutes and the indiscrepancies go on. You’d think that officials would know what was and wasn’t factual if they were watching the assault in real time as was initially promoted, especially after seeing Secretary Clinton’s infamous hand-covering-mouth photo. Turns out that she was reacting to allergies.
In a crisis communications, accuracy is imperative. Crisis situations demand facts AND fact checking, followed by double and triple confirmation of those facts. I don’t care how many reporters are chomping at the bit for a grain of information, the reality is they don’t want to report inaccurate information because it affects their credibility, not to mention their chances of a future journalism award. Nobody accessorizes their office or mantle for almost getting it right.
In the adrenaline of a crisis, nearly all plans and logic go AWOL. Emotions override. Competition trumps. Speed wins. If you want to handle or respond to a crisis like most, then bow to hysterical higher-ups and antsy reporters, stay the course of ambiguity and inaccuracy, and follow up with apologies and explanations.
However, if you want to prevent the egg-on-face outcome, keep yourself and/or your client hunkered down until you’re confident that undisputable facts can be released, even if it’s one fact at a time. Explain that you’d rather be right than quick.
Granted, the approach requires unbelievable patience, confidence and fortitude. The story will eventually be overshadowed by the next crisis, but your credibility, including your accuracy, leadership and demeanor, will long be remembered.
Any other crisis management tips?