A death in the parking lot of a local hospital. Dozens of stories in local and national media. A Congressman demanding Medicare and Medicaid investigations.
It took less than an hour for a driver to die. And five days for a hospital to destroy its reputation.
Did hospital personnel refuse to help police administer CPR to a man who crashed his car in their parking lot due to a heart attack? Did it insist, instead, on dispatching an emergency medical response unit while untrained officers attempted to perform CPR?
The hospital’s meandering and argumentative approach within its immediate and subsequent communications never provided clear answers. Among its missteps:
Yet even after its position was substantiated, an online news poll showed a majority felt the hospital hadn’t explained itself satisfactorily.
In the aftermath, and despite the volume of communications from the hospital, few things are clear:
- The hospital failed to clearly articulate its policy;
- It didn’t outline the steps it was taking to investigate the situation itself; and
- It didn’t offer consistent updates on the status of the investigation, heightening media interest – and criticism.
Here’s what the hospital could have done better…
- Engaged all disciplines for its immediate response. The hospital’s initial communications focused too heavily on arguing factual discrepancies. That can be helpful in court, but not in shaping public opinion. The best initial responses are consistent across all audiences and factor in counsel from executive, communications, legal/regulatory, and relevant operational perspectives.
- Previously thought through this scenario and prepared potential responses in advance. The more urgent the potential situation, the more important it is to think it through in advance, when calmer heads prevail. That’s the best environment to decide how the organization will respond, especially since factual ambiguity and probable litigation are the norm. A response that’s respectful, tells what you know to be true, shares next steps and acknowledges the unknowns can be a powerful aid at an urgent time.
“We extend our condolences to the family of the deceased. We are actively gathering information about the circumstances surrounding this incident. As we learn more, we will continue to communicate with those involved. Our mission is to provide the best possible medical care to patients on our premises, and our policy is to send medical help where needed on our campus. We are committed to making sure this type of situation is not repeated.”
Also helpful here: staging communications in advance. A plan to provide regular updates at predictable times in a central place can exert greater control and reinforce perceptions of a steady and consistent point of view (optimizing your Web site content for search engines is also helpful here). In the absence of any subsequent events, this can be a powerful strategy.
- Understood that in some situations, less is more. For organizations with high risk and liability exposure, delivering a simple message from a single voice is often best. And making sure that spokesperson is fully trained in handling agitated media is crucial.
The stakes just got raised. A U.K. daily is reporting that the Wikileaks founder has a “cache of secret documents” ready to be distributed should the organization be “curtailed” in its ”efforts”. As of Monday, there were hundreds of shadow sites housing the Wikileaks documents in the wake of Amazon.com shutting off the organization’s main site. Further, speculation after the Wikileaks founder’s Forbes interview last week — they’re coming after corporations next — has centered around Bank of America as the organization’s next target. But these new comments raise the risk to any high-profile, multinational organization.
If you think you have real potential of being included in Wikileaks information, connect your communications and legal departments now. At a minimum, they should have a contact plan in case anything unfortunate happens this week.
Should you become a target, how you handle the first news cycle will make or break you. So the severity of your inclusion determines which options to choose. Here are a few things to know…
Resist the temptation to respond immediately. Even if the initial disclosures about your organization seem clear, the unpredictable nature of how this cache of documents is threatened to be disclosed means information will likely unfold over several hours. A holding statement acknowledging you are aware of the activity and reviewing the reported information will create time to triage the real risk and determine the most effective response. Something like the following would work well as a response to media, customer and employee inquiries:
Yes, we’re aware of the Wikileaks activity and are reviewing the document(s).
We may not have further comment today.
Triage the real risk. In collaboration with your communications counsel, your attorneys and executive leadership, assess the three most relevant questions for Wikileaks activity:
- What’s the veracity of the attack? … Are the documents legitimate or forged? Are the allegations accurate?
- What is the scope of threat to the business? … Is it really a threat to the business or more of a threat to an individual executive’s reputation?
- Is there an opportunity to stay in the background or must the company respond in some way? … Have other companies been implicated? Are other attacks more severe than those involving your organization? Is the best response strategy complete or limited?
If a proactive response is needed, identify a single media outlet to carry the company’s response initially. It’s key to work with a journalist with a fully-developed view of the company. Consider whether a discussion or written response is the best approach. In either case, other media can access the company’s response in writing. And think carefully about whether to engage social media… if your objective is to limit exposure, the viral and broad nature of digital communications may not be your best choice.
Avoid commenting on or criticizing the Wikileaks founder or organization directly. Although the founder’s personal situation continues to deteriorate, there is real admiration for the Wikileaks organization’s mission and its maverick role. Engaging in this level of comment will create an opportunity for media and other opinion leaders to pass a moral judgment on your company and its executives – creating unnecessary business risk.
Posted on February 9, 2010 by Admin — Comments Off
Here’s what happens when Brian Ross of ABC News ambushes Jim Lentz (outside what appears to be the Bloomberg News building, of all places):
All the same problems as before, now presented in the form of a perp walk.
And here he is again on Fox Business News (where he looks much more in his comfort zone) minimizing the problem and putting as much of it as possible into the past tense.
An old friend used to say that the First Rule of Holes is that when you find yourself in one, stop digging.
Company needs a better face delivering a credible message quick, or it’s only going to keep right on rolling downhill.