Crisis Communications. Issues Management.
Crisis Communications. Issues Management.

Does that phrase make your stomach lurch? Sharing. It was fine in kindergarten and maybe with a counselor behind closed doors. But talking publicly about how your company managed a crisis. No way. What can you possibly gain?

If you are presented with an opportunity to set the record straight on a crisis your organization is enduring (or recently endured), take it. See it for what it is and grab the chance to talk directly to your stakeholders.

A professional services firm client of mine found itself gutted by the revelation that one of its most trusted, senior partners had been systematically robbing clients for years. I sat in their boardroom, listening as a dozen people voiced their anguish, disbelief and anger. Various iterations of the news were already out on social and traditional media, even attracting a long story in the national financial press. One partner sighed and said, “Well, I certainly won’t be going to that conference this weekend. Can’t hold my head up in that crowd.”

An idea struck me. “Why not?” I asked. “What about seeing the conference as a chance to tell your story? Use it as a cautionary tale with your peers. They’re going to be gossiping about you anyway. Blow the gossip away with the facts.”

I watched as expressions of incredulity and shock turned thoughtful and musing. I pushed a little further. “In fact, ask the conference organizers if you can have a place on the agenda. We’ll get you prepped with talking points, but basically just speak from the heart.”

That’s what he did, still with a lurching stomach and no small amount of trepidation about the outcome. And afterwards, he was surprised at the response.

“People listened so closely, you could have heard a pin drop when I was introduced and went up to the podium,” he said. “I told them what had happened, how we found out, what we learned, the mistakes that were made and what we did to fix the situation. And yes, I told them how I felt.

“After my formal presentation, I was practically mobbed by my peers; all of them congratulating me on being brave enough to come to the conference and to speak publicly, openly about our crisis,” he said. “Many of them said they were going back to their firms to check their systems and to put in place some of the safeguards we have implemented.”

It was not an easy exercise for this man or his firm, but it shut down a lot of the industry misinformation that was floating around about their situation and provided a chance for them to begin the resurrection of their damaged reputation.

Fortune does indeed favor the bold.