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One message, one voice

If there is one truism in crisis communications it is this: One message, one voice.

Every organization, public or private, will, at some time, have a crisis. How that organization, especially its leadership, responds has an indelible impact on the organization’s reputation and in its service to its citizens, its customers or its members.

A primary goal of any communication response to a crisis is to quickly and effectively provide information the various constituencies need and want. All responses should also be guided by the belief that whatever is done is done because it is the right thing to do, not the right thing to protect the organization and its leaders.

The fundamental way to do that is through a unified message. The same message repeated in different ways in different mediums. The same message, changing as needed, but always one that is well planned and well executed.

When messages become garbled or mixed or even contradicted, it leaves the public wondering about the organization’s effectiveness to handle the crisis and about its commitment to them.

We’ve all learned some valuable tips through personal experience, working with our colleagues or watching others handle various crises. Some things to remember:

· Prepare a crisis response plan and have an emergency response team.

· Designate a spokesperson. This will be the point person for all communications, will centralize release of all information and ensure the organization’s message is clear.

· Be first with the information. If there’s a problem, tell people.

· Be honest. If you lie, they will catch you. That’s especially true in a world in which search engines abound and information is readily accessible.

· Be accurate with the information. Don’t wing it. No one can be an expert on everything. A smart leader knows when to let others, who are experts in their field, speak.

Communication is an ever-evolving field. Technology has obviously changed, perhaps even revolutionized, crisis communications in recent years. But the field has also been forced to respond to societal changes brought on by that same technology. Society is more interconnected than ever and that means our use of a specific communications method is based as much on its emotional and psychological impact as on its effectiveness.

But as important as technology is during a crisis never forget: All crises are, ultimately, about people, and every effort must be made to respond appropriately and sensitively.

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