This simple list of four basic rules of crisis communications couldn’t be any shorter, yet we see so many people still get it wrong. In a crisis, a leader needs to communicate:

  1. Calmly. It will serve no one’s interest if anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty or perspiration shows through. It is important to draw some distinctions, though: Absolute calm will never be achieved and that should not be your aim. If one is too calm in the midst of conveying bad news in a crisis they won’t look fully engaged. They certainly don’t want to come across as bored or blase. But the other end of the spectrum—mania—is worse. Seek a middle ground.

  2. Honestly. More than ever, tell it like it is. There is little worse than being caught in a lie when you are already conveying bad news. Why would you want to run the risk of compounding the severity of what you are saying with a falsehood? This is why you don’t go off-script, and the lawyers should certainly be an integral part of the script-review process. However, there are other, often bigger communications issues at stake, such as the company’s reputation. If something is almost certainly going to come out later, why not take credit for announcing it proactively, rather than reactively?

  3. Succinctly. Don’t elaborate unless it is called for, and never speculate. Say what you have to say and leave the stage, unless you are prepared to answer some questions. A Q&A may be appropriate, and the PR staff should draft likely questions and rehearse responses. But if not, shut up. You have done your job; now let others do theirs.

  4. Factually. Make certain that whatever you say is factually true and (if appropriate) provable. Giving wrong information is counterproductive to your goals.

From Steven Fink’s great “The Crisis Blog”.

I could list this back to the perennial discussion around security breaches and why companies suffering them generally don’t go bust, but I won’t. Hint: it’s because their crisis response is decent. And also because the breach generally isn’t affecting their core competency and their ability to produce and deliver products that their customers and the market expects them to. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish.