It’s not a question that many organizations stop and think about. But it’s definitely an important decision that’s essential to ensure you are managing crisis communications.
If your organization typically puts all crisis communications immediately in the lap of your top person, you may want to revisit this approach.
Why? Consider these points:
1. Your executive director is supposed to know everything. Wait, isn’t that a good thing? Not necessarily. The fact your executive director ‘knows everything’ is more a perception of the media. Reporters want to get access to your top person for one newsworthy reason: your executive director is supposed to be able to answer any question. Well, that’s simply unrealistic. Putting your executive director immediately in the media spotlight during a crisis may cause more harm than good. If your executive director can’t answer a question because he/she doesn’t know, that’s not good for him/her or the organization. A top executive is not supposed to have a lack of knowledge about his/her organization. That’s where there’s communications risk. Many hard news stories focus on elements of conflict. The fact your executive director doesn’t know what’s happening in his/her own organization is an example of internal conflict (ie. an executive in conflict with own communications). That type of conflict may be reported by media. You don’t want the public getting that perception.
2. A designated spokesperson can save your bacon. Or, at least help keep your organization from being deep-fried by media. Generally, reporters understand that a spokesperson is the designated ‘face’ for communications, but not necessarily a person who knows everything. That’s one of the big differences between a designated spokesperson and, say, a CEO. A spokesperson can spin answers, deflect or defer questions until he/she gathers more information before responding fully to media. A CEO can’t, or shouldn’t. In other words, a spokesperson has far more leeway. When media demand your top person for an interview, a spokesperson can gather facts and media questions to prepare top-level executives.
3. Internal communications is often a better first step of action for top executives. No matter how much we talk about the importance of internal communications, it always seems that employees feel they are the last to know about something in their own organization. It shouldn’t be that way. In times of crisis, top executives need to take care of their own first. With today’s technology, there are so many ways to effectively and speedily communicate with staff. The last thing employees want is to only hear, read or see in the media what their CEO or president has to say.
Of course, all of the above are only suggestions to consider. Each situation and crisis requires careful consideration about when, or if, your executive director, CEO or other will take centre stage for communications in a crisis. The point here is that doing it immediately can carry risks.