When tragedy strikes

Smart businesses work diligently to prepare for avoidable crises. Action steps and communication plans fill pages of corporate emergency management plans. Signs are hung, memos are sent, and drills are run. But, there are rare tragedies that befall a business that cannot be prevented or even prepared for intricately. Because the nature of the event is gut-wrenching and unpredictable, your crisis plan may not outline exactly how to handle the situation.

Countless brands have been linked to unthinkable tragedy, and likely more will be added to the list as time moves forward. As public relations professionals, it’s paramount that we remove our rose-colored glasses and have difficult discussions about how to react to the worst possible situations. How should those discussions go?

First, companies should know that silence is not an option. With social media mentions mounting and reporters calling, it’s crucial that companies involved in tragedies communicate clearly and quickly.

Courtney Ellett, our firm’s owner, noted in the wake of a recent tragedy, “It’s important to know that how a company responds, even when not responsible, can provide needed and positive notes even during the darkest of times.”

While a company can’t change what happened, the way it speaks about and reacts to a crisis can shape the long-term conversation. Considerations include:

While there is no one-size-fits-all crisis plan, there is one thing that will always guide you straight — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Businesspeople and leadership should approach the situation as people first, extending condolences and acting with empathy. With this approach and good intentions, you can cultivate a culture of healing following an unthinkable crisis.