At a time when movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter are holding society accountable for our individual and collective actions on a level never seen before, it is important for companies and organizations to have a comprehensive and holistic plan for dealing with a potential crisis event stemming from these issues. Specifically, the C-Suite, public relations and legal counsel must all work together to present a united front.

Solomon McCown & Company President Ashley McCown and Vice President T.J. Winick recently spoke on a panel which addressed labor and employment communications hosted by The Massachusetts Bar Association alongside Christine Hughes, Vice President and General Counsel at Emerson College. Here are our top four takeaways from the discussion:

Know your audience and where they are. When anticipating a crisis, it’s critical to consider your key audiences. Generally, the two broad audience groups to consider are  internal such as employees, volunteers, and  students, and  external, such as the general public, clients, donors, the media and regulatory agencies. Remember that each audience comes from a different place – each has their own level of knowledge and understanding, along with their own perspective. Most importantly, they care about different things so it’s important to address what issues they’ll be most concerned with. Modality is responsive to the audience, so you must know where your audience is in order to reach them. For example, those who are younger communicate more frequently through texting and social media whereas management or board members of your organization might receive their information through email or even snail mail.

Be proactive. Part of building a successful communications plan is anticipating every conceivable scenario. This includes looking at the calendar and predicting which dates may become triggers for public attention and even media coverage. These could include annual meetings or galas, anniversaries and commencements, and fundraising campaigns. When you know these events and occasions are approaching, there is no excuse to be caught flat footed without prepared statements and other communications tools at the ready.

“No comment” is a comment. While it may be tempting to say “no comment,” to a reporter this response puts you at an inherent disadvantage. If you don’t engage with a reporter, you have zero ability to impact the story. Stories will be written regardless, and even a short, written statement is infinitely more effective than “no comment”.

Don’t be afraid to say “sorry.” Apologies are NOT always tantamount to admitting guilt. In fact, in many cases it demonstrates compassion and empathy. That being said, it is important to carefully consider the language of your apology to protect your organization from liability. A well-articulated apology that demonstrates authenticity and awareness and avoids “victim-blaming” will likely resonate with those audiences you care most about.

Thank you to the Mass Bar Association for the opportunity!

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