None of your business
Columns by the Business Manager of The Beacon
This week, we’re going to talk about a very important aspect of business: damage control, and the missteps some companies make.
When things go wrong, often horribly wrong, the first response many companies have is to shut all communication down. No one is allowed to talk to the press, and if anybody is, it can only be the company’s pre-selected sources who are instructed to not directly talk about the incident. In some ways, this makes sense. If anyone within your organization is allowed to talk freely, misinformation can spread, which can be bad for your brand, and if you keep communication to a minimum, your customers might not even notice the incident ever happened.
Wrong. If my experiences as a reporter and editor have taught me anything it is that the truth always eventually comes out, and it’s much worse for your brand if people find out the facts much later than if you outright release that information soon after it happens and reassure your customers that appropriate action is being taken. If you try to cover up or withhold information, that can be the makings of a scandal, something that you and your organization could pay for for years to come. This is not to say that every organization has to be completely transparent in damage control scenarios – in fact in most cases, they can’t, especially when an internal investigation is taking place – but it is important to release what you can and to be honest and respectful when asked.
I often think back to President John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs apology speech, in which the president admits, on his own terms, that his ill-fated invasion of the bay was a mistake. Sure, there must have been pressure for him to admit his folly, but he could have easily done what many presidents and officials do – apologize for their mistakes, years later, when they have distanced themselves from the event. Kennedy apologized the week after, and for many it was a moment that defined his character, and he earned a lot of people’s respect for it, because doing the right thing on your own isn’t easy, and very few officials – be they in the government or not – do, especially when they might have a lot to lose.
I think a lot of organizations have this idea in their head that they have to be perfect, that they are without fault – or rather, their customers have to think that they’re perfect – and any information to the contrary must be buried and destroyed. People will understand, and maybe not all will, but enough will, and maybe it will take them some time, but I can tell you this, if I respect your company or your brand, it will be hard to lose me as a customer, and that type of respect – respect for who you are and what you do – is something that has to be earned. On one end, a crisis can be a PR disaster, but on another, it is your opportunity to earn the respect of your constituents, your customers, your patrons, etc. by showing them that you are willing to do the right thing. And that’s something you can’t buy, and can help you forge long-term relationships built off of respect for years to come.