Some years ago I was part of a crisis management team working for a pharmaceutical company facing the prospect of a product linked to serious side effects.
A respected medical journal was about to publish data that, while incomplete, raised questions about a popular drug's safety. Lawyers, scientists and PR people argued back and forth about the journal's conclusions and how they should be forcefully rebutted.
It was loud in the conference room, and getting louder. Finally the CEO stepped in and asked for quiet. "There are flaws in this data," he said - or words to that effect. "I think they're drawing the wrong conclusions. But we are in the business of improving health, not hurting it. We'll withdraw the product and keep it off the market until we know it's safe."
That proved to be an expensive decision. But it was also the right one. In moments of crisis, people listen with their hearts, not their minds.
Our friends at Maslansky + Partners, a language consultancy with lots of expertise in crisis message design, agree - and include this with some other great advice in the post below.
Take a look and let us know what you think.
Fact sheets often fail in the midst of crisis. If the crisis suggest your products aren’t safe, or you did something wrong, the public won’t believe you when you tell them otherwise. The hardest lesson to learn in crisis is that the facts won’t set you free. Effective messages start by acknowledging – not rejecting – the public’s right to be concerned. Effective messages also tend to focus on the future not the past. And most importantly, effective messages replace – rather than rebut – the negative narrative.