Too often, companies look to deflect blame, eschew responsibility and ignore humanity in their crisis response statements. These are mission-critical errors that don’t achieve the desired result (mitigating impact) and frequently exacerbate the problem. Lawyers are involved. But it is our job as public relations practitioners to serve the public by helping companies and organizations relate better to and with one another.
This Johnson & Johnson situation reminds us of the core elements of a successful and authentic response:
Acknowledge the lives of those affected. Sympathizing humanizes the brand and the response and makes those affected feel seen and their experiences recognized.
Be accountable. Admitting guilt or accepting blame is probably something your legal team will advise against, but there are ways to recognize your role in the situation without setting off attorneys’ alarm bells. Close collaboration between legal and PR is vital to crafting a response that meets both teams’ needs.
Outline actions. Explaining how you will investigate what led to the crisis and then the steps you will take to reduce the likelihood it will happen again begins to restore public confidence and trust. Regular progress reports build momentum and reinforce accountability, which can restore consumer and investor trust.
It’s never too early to begin a crisis management initiative. Start by dismantling the often-adversarial relationship between legal and PR so when these teams need to coordinate, trust and collaboration are already in place. Then draft practice holding statements that balance empathy and accountability within a safe legal framework. These efforts ensure that your crisis response will hit all the right notes.
Until next month,
CEO and President
The Fearey Group