During a crisis, let others speak on your behalf. It can be an awkward feeling when the harsh winds and torrential rains are battering your company’s reputation. Yet, in many cases, others can do a far better job of explaining who you are and what really happened.
It’s essential to ensure you have identified, engaged and prepared those external amplifiers and validators to effectively serve on your behalf before the next storm arrives.
They are not always traditional stakeholders. In most cases it’s a very different group. Instead, they often are experts and credible voices on issues that may be vulnerabilities for your company.
The first step is determining the most likely and damaging threats you may face. Then seek those who are most knowledgeable and have the widest networks in that area.
Perhaps the most challenging part is the initial outreach to them. You need to show how they stand to benefit from engagement with your company. What can you offer?
Consider a project or program they can help build. Collaborating on an initiative will afford them an authentic opportunity to get to better know you, your values and vision. It also provides them with a potentially attractive leadership opportunity.
The next step is ensuring that they are well-equipped to conduct outreach, when needed. This includes having the right connections with the press and other influencers. And assisting them with writing, presentation and social strategies can be helpful.
You can also connect them to speaking, interview and other thought leadership moments.
Next, you want to activate this network when problems are percolating. Keep members informed with email updates, backgrounder calls and access to other experts and resources.
Flag disinformation, rumors or incorrect information. Finally, engage their ideas and input on how to handle the situation.
One of the reasons why we are not generally our best spokespeople during difficult times is because the level of scrutiny and skepticism increases substantially. The press, pundits and the public question our motives and even the facts we present.
This is why engaging external entities and experts can be extremely powerful.
They are not paid spokespeople and may not always stay exactly on message. But, they carry a lot more credibility and can play a critical role in creating a more constructive conversation for you during crisis.
Brett Bruen teaches crisis at Georgetown University and served as President Obama’s director of global engagement. He is president of the Global Situation Room.