Five Tips for Selecting a Crisis Spokesperson

22 07 2009

Sooner or later, every organization will have to deal with some bad news. And who speaks on your organization’s behalf in these bad news situations can be just as important as what is said … maybe more important.

Don’t automatically rely on the top communications executive or the CEO. They may not be the right person for this specific situation. Who is?

It depends. While there’s no one-size-fits-all rule as to who should serve as your organization’s spokesperson during times of crisis, over the years we’ve noticed there are five considerations that can help you select the best person for the situation:

1) Pick an insider – Sure, outside PR counsel may know how best to work with the media in the situations, but for maximum credibility of your message and organization, your spokesperson should come from within your organization.

2) Pick someone with the right departmental expertise - Choose an executive that not only knows the details of your situation, but is also an expert in the department most involved. For example, in an IT crisis, look to the Chief Technical Officer or senior IT staff.

3) Pick someone with the right organizational knowledge – Tap someone who “gets” the company’s key messages and is well-versed on the organization’s mission, vision and values, so she/he can convey the proper big-picture perspective.

4) Pick someone with solid communications skills – Choose someone who is comfortable and capable with telling your story, preferably someone who is personable, quick on her/his feet and has taken some media training (and give them a refresher course!).

5) Pick someone with the right personality – Select someone who can remain calm and empathetic in the heat of hostile and emotional situations, who is a bridge-builder and who can keep their own ego in check. A little genuine compassion and humility go a long way.

For more thoughts on preparing for, and dealing with, bad news, click here (

And if you have additional spokesperson selection considerations to share, we’d love to hear them.

10 Lessons for Chapter 11

13 07 2009

At a seminar held recently in Troy, Michigan, former Dura Automotive Chairman & CEO Larry Denton shared his “10 Lessons Learned in Chapter 11” with an audience of auto supplier executives, analysts and turnaround experts.

Interesting stuff, especially with so many companies suffering the effects of the dramatic economic downturn. And important to marketing and communication executives as well, as customer relationships and communications are critical success factors in the process.

Denton called Chapter 11 a powerful management tool, but nota silver bullet. He sees it as, for many companies, the fastest and most efficient way for a company to reset its break-even point. And while many of the advisors a company hires to assist them have been through the Chapter 11 process, most CEOs are “newbies” in the process. And as rookies, they need to get the process right the first time, as there is no second chance – you either emerge from Chapter 11 or you liquidate.

Here are the 10 lessons Denton offers CEOs who are facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy:

1. Start the restructuring process before you file.
2. Develop a single timing chart and pick an exit date.
3. Own the process.
4. Identify key employees and implement a plan to retain them.
5. Expect things to go wrong.
6. Leverage the bankruptcy process to accelerate cost reduction.
7. Increase your transparency to customers.
8. Remain enthusiastic and optimistic.
9. Don’t lose sight of your five-year vision for the company.
10. Meet and exceed your customers’ quality and delivery goals.

There are a couple of common threads that weave through his lessons: bold leadership and communication.

Crucial to success is having the CEO own, manage and lead the process – keeping the management team and the cadre of outside advisers on track, in sync and on schedule. The CEO needs to set the agenda, otherwise the agendas of others will play havoc with the process.

Denton points out that the outside advisers hired know the process and typically know each other. As CEO, you’re the new person in the game, but it’s your bat and ball – you have the most at stake, so you need to control all that you can.

Also, the CEO needs to remain enthusiastic and optimistic throughout the process and lead the charge every day … and keep the long-term future, the five-year vision, out in front where all can focus on it.

Ongoing communication, not only with the management team, but also with employees, suppliers and customers, is more important than ever, Denton says. After all, in the absence of information, people make stuff up. And when you’re company is in bankruptcy, you know the stuff they’re going to make up will be negative – probably much worse than any reality you face. So communicate as early, as often and as openly as legally possible. Transparency is key!

Denton mentioned that one tactic he adopted during his Chapter 11 experience was to have top executives meet with his eight largest customers once a month. They talked about the company’s progress, the changes he and his team were making and the improvements they were experiencing – and for once, they were NOT talking about price.

This increased exposure and transparency with customers not only built the company’s relationships but actually helped to increase orders. The resulting customer confidence played a major role in the company’s successful emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2008.

Perhaps Denton’s talk underscores something for all companies: Good leadership and pro-active communication are crucial to a company’s succes — whether they are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy or not.

What’s your take?


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