We have all heard it: Do what is right, not what is easy.
While we are quick to give this advice, actually doing it poses difficult and sometimes awkward situations. I can say from personal experience, it’s hard to apologize first, to be honest about the terrible dinner your spouse or significant other made, or to share your feelings or opinions with someone you know may not agree. Also from personal experience, I’ve learned that taking the easy way out usually makes things more difficult and complex down the road, and often comes back to bite you.
As PR professionals who help clients with crisis communication and management, we deal with this moral dilemma each and every day. And thankfully, I can say with complete confidence that this profession has helped my team and I embrace the awkward and uncomfortable, and do—or encourage others to do—what is right, every single time.
When it feels like the sky is falling down because this or that happened (and you’re the one responsible for managing your team and your organization through it), we are faced with many questions. What do we do next? How can we recover from this? What information can and should we share?
Here’s the answer: regardless of the situation, it’s critical to be as honest and as transparent as possible with the information you have available. It might be easiest and most desirable to lock the doors, ignore the calls and binge-watch Netflix until everything goes away, but especially in these situations, your audience—customers, employees and other key stakeholders—are watching your every move. And what you do in these unfortunate and often frustrating situations, will determine your organization’s reputation moving forward.
Still not convinced? Here are three reasons why you should be honest with your audience—every. single. time.
Once trust is broken, chances are slim that you’ll get it back.
When customers use your products or services, they are choosing your company over your competitors. When this happens, they are supporting your company and putting trust into your operating standards. They are looking to your company as the expert in _____, and likely believe that your company operates in the best possible manner regarding regulations and practices, treating your workforce appropriately, and showing respect for individuals, other businesses and the environment.
Unfortunately, crises happen, and whether your company is the primary party at fault or not, your audience is looking to you as their trusted contact. This is, perhaps, the most important test for stakeholders: How will you communicate? Will you take accountability or will you remain silent? What you be proactive or reactive?
If you choose to take accountability, work to be proactive, and communicate honestly and often, trust will likely remain intact. If you choose otherwise, well…your competitors will thank you.
When people are feeling vulnerable or insecure, they’re looking to find information—fast.
Depending on the situation, your audience is likely feeling one or more of the following emotions: fear, confusion, frustration, betrayal, sadness, anger—and the list could keep going. It’s your job to reassure them that you and your organization are stepping up to handle the situation and taking accountability for what has happened (if appropriate). If your organization is not the primary party responsible for the crisis, it’s still your job to communicate and be proactive at finding solutions for the issues you do have control over and offering resources to those in need.
If your organization serves as a channel to provide clear and concise information (which you should be doing), your stakeholders will begin to identify you as a reliable resource and look to you for updates about the situation. This will likely contribute to improved trust and may even serve as a method for building relationships not currently present.
They’ll remember—and they’ll make sure their friends do, too.
So, let’s say you decided to binge-watch Netflix after all and stay silent—or worse, point the finger and/or provide inaccurate, untruthful information. This is going to hurt.
Part of our roles as PR professionals is to get the word out about X, Y or Z. We often like to rattle out that word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing tool—and one that will certainly make or break your reputation. If you break the trust of your audience and stakeholders by choosing to be dishonest, unavailable or inconsistent, you’ve not only run the risk of losing current customers, but made it more difficult to gain new ones.
The customers you ignored or deceived will remember, and they will make sure that Joe Schmoe and his brother remember, too. Not to mention, with social media and online reviews, word-of-mouth travels faster and further than ever before, bonding strangers with similar opinions, emotions and views. While word-of-mouth is a fantastic tool, it can also work against you just as well.
So, while the consequences of telling your spouse you enjoyed his or her new recipe for chicken enchiladas (even though you hated it) are small, the consequences of an organization being intentionally dishonest and unaccountable with its audience are significant.
Remember, do what is right, not what is easy—and do it every. single. time.