When a company gets into a crisis – a real crisis with the mob at the gates wanting to tear the place down – management can call a lawyer. Or a politician. Or a PR person. Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer who served in Bill Clinton’s White House when the Prez got caught with his pants down, is a player in all three realms. He’s a guy people call when it all hits the fan.
Now Davis has a book, Crisis Tales (Threshold Editions, 2013), laying out five rules for how to survive a crisis. War stories from many crises in business and government illustrate these rules. Says Davis:
My work in crisis management has taught me a series of rules and one overall guiding principle. The guiding principle: Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.
The core idea of the book is to take control of a story – a narrative, as the pundits say – by becoming the person who tells the story. This is a valuable lesson for companies and CEOs whose business blows up, literally or figuratively, in the harsh light of media or public attention. And it’s a good guideline for us as investor relations professionals.
A top-line look at Davis’ five rules of crisis management:
- Get all the facts out.
- Put the facts into simple messages.
- Get ahead of the story.
- Fight for the truth using law, media and politics.
- Never represent yourself in a crisis.
This is a crisis communications guide worth perusing. I’m uncomfortable in the swampland we call politics, even cynical about anyone whose address ends in “DC.” But Davis’ examples of damaged reputations – and the process of damage control – are instructive.
In a public company, it’s well worth considering the strategy for handling a crisis before something blows up. What’s your crisis plan?