Six Principles of Crisis Communication

Maintain your ability to guide the resolution.

October 18, 2013

Unfulfilled expectations are at the core of every crisis that's poorly handled, says Karen Doyne, managing director of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. She addressed the American Association of Credit Union Leagues' 2013 Communicators Conference in Chicago.

“The overarching goal of every crisis communication plan is to maintain your ability to guide the resolution of the crisis,” she says.

To do that, Doyne offers these six principles:

1. Do the right thing. Step back, consider public opinion—and then do the right thing in the eyes of the public.

2. Validate your message with actions. Crises are managed with communication but resolved with actions.

3. Understand and respond to stakeholders' expectations. Again, it's important to be able to see the crisis through the eyes of others.

4. Take appropriate ownership. “You don't have to admit guilt,” Doyne says. “But it's important to take ownership and make things right.”

5. Contain quickly. "Anticipate and get ahead of events," she says. "Focus on your response to where the crisis is now and where it might be in the future."

6. Beware the false dawn. Just because the crisis is no longer in the headlines doesn't mean it's out of stakeholders' minds.

"The principal principle is to have a plan and a team that can execute it," she says. "If I could have only one of those two, I'd take the team."