Top Ten Crisis "Rules of the Road"

Rule One
Take Responsibility. Your name is on the product, so you're responsible for it. The public wants you to accept responsibility, whether you're actually to blame for it or not.

Rule Two
Recognize the difference between bad publicity and a crisis and calibrate your response accordingly. If you have an embarrassing story in the paper, it doesn't mean that it's a full blown crisis. It could just be bad publicity and will eventually blow over. You can make it worse by overreacting and creating your own publicity. So recognize the difference between bad publicity and a full blown crisis or get some help in recognizing that difference.

Rule Three
Use Research to determine how to respond. One of the most effective things a company can do is to poll its consumers to understand what they're thinking about a particular crisis situation and what they think the company should do. Many times research data is used to plan a response. And many times you'll find that what a company thinks is a crisis is really only bad publicity and you reach that conclusion by doing research.

Rule Four
Recruit and use third parties to speak on your behalf. Some large institutions may show a lack of trust. So it is very important to have other people, such as friends, to say the things you want to say about your company. Many times they are more credible than you are.

Rule Five
Treat the media as your friends, not enemies. Just like you, they've got a job to. You can let them use other sources, such as hostile third parties or people who have an interest in giving you trouble, or you can deal with them forthrightly. It's much easier to do the latter of the two.

Rule Six
Assume you'll be sued. It doesn't make a difference what you do, how you act, whether you accept blame, take blame, take responsibility or don't take responsibility, you are going to be sued. It's the way a company handles the crisis and how it behaved that enables it to avoid punitive damages in a lawsuit. Openness in communications can not be reiterated enough. Assume you're going to be sued, and don't act on the basis that somehow you can avoid it.

Rule Seven
Watch the Web as closely as the traditional media. More people are using the Web for communication than ever before. So be sure to have Internet access to see not only what the traditional media is saying, but also what's going on in chat rooms and on the Web.

Rule Eight
Demonstrate concern, care and empathy. You want to be sympathetic and you want to empathize. People will not listen to what happened and why it happened until you've gotten past the emotionalism of the moment. The only way to get past the emotionalism is to sympathize or empathize with the people who have been affected.

Rule Nine
Take the first 24 hours very, very seriously. You may do all the right things, but the perception of your company and how you manage the crisis is shaped in the first 24 hours.

Rule Ten
Begin your crisis management plan right now by doing the things you need to do to build your reputational assets. Corporate reputation does matter in a time of crisis.