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Communicating Calmly in the Midst of Chaos

From an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to an active shooter or reports of mysterious deaths at a luxury resort, accidents and catastrophic situations put your business to the ultimate test—almost always in real time. The public, the media, customers and stakeholders want clear, calm answers and information as the situation is happening. They want details when few are available. They’re shoving a microphone and camera in your face while you’re still trying to extinguish the flames.

And it’s up to you to communicate calmly and effectively, striking the right balance of empathy without culpability, representing your business as the responsible public stewards you are, even though the current situation may have the media and public viewing you with a less-than-sympathetic eye while the lawyers, IR team, and communicators argue over the proper course.

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The Courage to Lead

Leadership in peacetime is “easy.” It’s in a crisis when meddle either emerges or is vanquished. And remembered “From this day to the ending of the world,” as Henry V recites in William
Shakespeare’s Saint Crispin’s speech.

How your business survives a catastrophic event—even with multiple fatalities—is largely dependent on public perception of your immediate reaction to it. It is Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster; George W. Bush standing on the pile of rubble at Ground Zero; Johnson & Johnson’s CEO Jim Burke overriding the FBI’s concerns about the cyanide crisis and recalling all Johnson & Johnson products before the FDA acts. You have to be present to win.