This issue of Communication Command contains an interview about effective crisis communication and an article about 'Knowing what to say during a crisis.' We hope you will enjoy reading our e-Newsletter.

May 2014
Successful Media Training Workshop
In April, C4CS® conducted an interactive Media Training Workshop hosted by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The photo above shows Dana Scarpino, Marketing Communications Manager at UPMC Health Plan and current IABC Pittsburgh President, during a practice interview. Additional photos taken during the workshop may be viewed via this link.

TV Interview on Crisis Communication and Reputation Management
C4CS® Senior Partner Dianne Chase was recently interviewed about the City of Charlotte's crisis communication and reputation management efforts. Please click here if you would like to visit WCCB-TV Charlotte's website and watch the clip.

National Data Center Facility Visit
Earlier this month, C4CS® visited Iron Montain's Underground and National Data Center Facility iin Boyers, Pennsylvania. The photograph above shows the entrance to the underground data center facility, which is located in a former limestone mine and spans 145 acres.

Our next e-Learning course on 'Harnessing the Power of Social Media in Crisis Management' will be conducted August 4 through August 15, 2014. Congratulations to those who completed the course work and obtained a Certificate in Social Media Crisis Management Planning accredited by ICOR. The course brochure can be downloaded via this link.
If you have questions concerning our e-Learning course, please contact us at

Communication Command e-Newsletter
Please click here if you would like to access past issues of our e-Newsletter.

Five Questions about Effective Crisis Communication  

Julie K. Davis, APR is Vice President, Strategic Communications at Brookdale Senior Living, Inc., a national senior living solutions company. She manages the corporate communications team that handles associate communications, public relations, digital and crisis communications, and reputation management.

Julie Davis

What fascinates you about crisis communication?

When the phone rings, you hold your breath because it could be anything. That volatility gives anyone in the crisis communications business pause, but it is also the stuff that fuels an off-beat kind of excitement. Each new situation is a unique challenge. Sure, there are some broad categories of crisis and perhaps golden rules. However, experience really does matter – it guides you when you are in the thick of it and need to move fast.  I like the fact that each situation has its own flavor, its own special ingredients, and it is a wise cook who pays attention to these details.

Based on your experience, what is important when it comes to crisis communication?

Speed is certainly important. Stakeholders want information related to a crisis fast and will fill in the blanks themselves if you do not provide it. Thoroughness is important because you need to provide facts, color commentary, and whatever details may become part of your message. At the same time you should only communicate what you are permitted to share. I would add accuracy to the list of what is important. You should only communicate what you know is true and right. Once said, you cannot take it back. There are lots of spokespersons who would like to rewind the clock and reformulate a specific statement. So develop your key messages carefully and make sure you prepare thoroughly when it comes to message delivery. You also must frame the situation because people need context to understand what is going on. Finally, in my experience approvals play a key role. Do not say it unless senior management and the lawyers have reviewed and approved it.

When a crisis occurs, what are you trying to accomplish and how difficult is it to communicate effectively?

You should do everything you can to contain the situation and develop your communication response right away. Bad is bad enough, you do not want it to get worse. And you definitely do not want to make it worse. Often buying time so you can gather and verify crisis related information is a good strategy. The overall objective is of course to protect your company’s reputation.
There are several factors that makes communicating effectively during a crisis hard. One would be emotions. Everyone has them. And reacting in an emotional manner can result in impaired judgment and wrong decisions. So be careful. There is also the need-for-speed versus the big-picture caution. You should not sacrifice accuracy and safety for the sake of being fast. The lack of clarity, especially as a situation is unfolding, should be responded to by patience. If you are still in the process of researching the facts, refrain from jumping to conclusions. Instead, say that you are still in the information gathering phase and will release additional facts as they become available. Because the facts can be very unfriendly, your message development and message delivery must work seamlessly. Again, stick to the truth, but at the same time explain the situation thoroughly and describe what you are doing to contain the situation and, if applicable, to prevent recurrences. Keep in mind that perceptions create reality and be ready to intervene if factually wrong information is being conveyed by others.

What are the most challenging crisis situations you have worked on?

The need for speed in handling a crisis was quite clear in November 2013 when armed robbers broke into a dementia-care community operated by my employer.  I received the emergency phone call at 2:30 AM, and there was no sleep after that. By 5 AM, our cross-functional, cross-country team of representatives from Operations, Clinical, Legal, and Communications was well into the series of conference calls needed to understand what had happened, to determine the well-being of residents and associates, and to plan the path forward.  As the conference call progressed, I monitored local-market news channels through their internet sites as well as our monitoring service and discovered that at least one station had picked up the story, probably from a police scanner, and was airing its first report. Of course, that meant others would follow quickly. 
While the conference call continued, I drafted and received immediate approval concerning a corporate statement that expressed our concern, our gratefulness for support from the authorities, and shared initial thoughts. Our goals were to get this information into the first major round of reporting on the situation, to head off any criticism of the company’s policies or security measures, and to shorten the amount of time this would be in the news. I hence immediately reached out to all media in the local market, including the one that had aired its first report, and succeeded in getting the company’s viewpoint into the first round of stories, establishing a clear path for reporters to follow for subsequent inquiries.  They knew to contact me which allowed us to control the flow of information.
Controlling the flow of information was also important in a food-tampering situation I worked on for a previous employer, a national restaurant company. While the central figure in this drama claimed to have found a mouse in her soup, the company’s internal investigation showed pretty quickly that the situation was a fraud. However, sharing that knowledge prematurely would have jeopardized the criminal investigation. So our challenge was to carefully control all communications about this for the three weeks it took until an arrest was made.  Those were three long weeks because the Associated Press had picked up the story nationally and sales had dropped by double-digits at that location, also affecting the comany in other markets. The company’s reputation was at stake.

What did you do to protect the company's reputation?

To protect our reputation, we did two things. First, we centralized all communications – external and internal – so the company was speaking with one voice, releasing only the information we wanted to be available to the public, aligning messages to employees, and making periodic statements regardless of whether new information was available in order to reduce speculation. Second, I maintained contact with the AP reporter on the story. I knew we would need him to do a follow-up story if we had any chance of getting the truth out and keeping this fraud from becoming an urban legend, and I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be on vacation or have lost interest by the time an arrest was made.

The plan worked.  Three weeks after the incident, when an arrest was made through a “sting” operation with local authorities, the AP reporter was available for my phone call, happy to do a phone interview with the head of the criminal investigation, and the follow-up story actually received broader pick-up nationally than the initial report about the incident.

Advice for small businesses on knowing what to say during a crisis

C4CS® was interviewed for this 'Ask The Expert' article which appeared in The Charlotte Observer on May 6, 2014. Please click here to access the full article. 

Small businesses should always be prepared for the possibility that a crisis could affect their company, a local expert says.

“Anything can happen at any moment,” says Dianne Chase, senior partner with C4CS, LLC, which specializes in strategic communication and crisis management. “You have to be prepared because it’s not a matter of if – it’s when.”

Knowing what to say – and how to handle the crisis well – can actually benefit a company’s reputation.

Chase urges her clients to prepare for a crisis so when one happens they will know what to do, which will allow them to retain their reputation and customers’ loyalty.

Here are Chase’s suggestions for how companies can manage media crises:

• Imagine the three worst crises the business could face and think through some hypothetical responses.

“We all know that the worst possible thing is not to respond,” Chase said. “Never say, ‘no comment,’ or ignore a negative situation.”

Speaking off the cuff can lead to disaster, so Chase recommends business owners rehearse what they might say in certain situations.

Business owners almost always can say what they know about a situation, and it’s usually safe also to state how they feel about it. That will help them speak to a situation on a more human level.

“You are connecting as one human being to another instead of as a faceless business,” Chase said.

• Craft an appropriate message: Remember when BP CEO Tony Hayward said “I’d like my life back?” at a news conference after the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

In times of crisis, it’s important to consider the impact of your words before you speak publicly.

“A lot of times (business owners) just don’t have the communication skills needed because they haven’t thought about how to respond and they haven’t practiced,” Chase said. “You have to feel in control of that message when something happens.”

A professional reputation management firm can help create a message, which should promote the business’s mission and positive values and offer a compassionate and knowledgeable response to the crisis.

Also consider your audiences, which could include customers, family and friends, stockholders and business associates.

“Those messages have to be crafted for all of those audiences,” Chase said.

• Communicate often and tell the truth: In the Internet age, the truth can quickly be ferreted out and published.

“You have to be quick and have candor in your response,” Chase said.

Be prepared to provide timely communication and updates about the situation, all the while being transparent and open about what is happening.

“If you think of it as a circle, really it’s very much living in the crisis, living into the crisis and living through the crisis,” Chase said.

Read more here:

If you have any questions concerning this article, please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Food For Thought

“A crisis is an opportunity
riding the dangerous wind.

Chinese proverb

Copyright © 2014 C4CS, LLC. All rights reserved.

Leaders in Strategic Communication
and Crisis Management