The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications


Crisis communications Plans Gerard BraudBy Gerard Braud

Regarding crisis communications and crisis communications plans, does this adage apply?

“The person who says something can’t be done is always right.”

In so many crises, public relations professionals and the media proclaim phrases such as, “This is unprecedented. You can’t prepare for this.”

Pardon me, but that’s bull$h*t.

As a defiant, non-conformist, contrarian, nothing inspires me to do something more than doing something they said couldn’t be done.

If you want to prepare and you are willing to put forth the effort, you can write a crisis communications plan and a library of pre-written news releases that will serve you in any crisis. Public relations people without the expertise, who are unwilling to put forth the effort, take the easy way out by saying, “It can’t be done.”

Here is the backstory of how defiance turned into a process that allowed public relations teams to put an effective crisis communications plan in place in as few as two days.

In 1996, I begin doing extensive research on crisis communications plans and found each plan repeated the same flaws as the ones before it. All conformed to public relations standards of then and today. Being a contrarian, I researched the common communications mistakes made in each crisis. I poured over case studies from when I was a member of the media. I analyzed why spokespeople said dumb things to me in most crises when I was a television reporter. I analyzed why corporations were slow to communicate about each crisis.

Crisis Communication movie gerard braudThe pain, problems, and predicaments of the communicator and the corporation were scrutinized. Once this was done, I began to work backwards, with the end in mind. Multiple end points were identified, which consisted of the intervals at which a statement would need to be made by a company to the media, a company’s employees, and the stakeholders most affected by the crisis.

From 1996 – 2004, I wrote crisis communications plans for a wide variety of businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. The process often took a year of collaboration, which for me was too long. Dealing with the slow pace of corporate collaboration didn’t fit my personality.

In 2004, while recovering from a near-death-illness, I began looking for the fastest way to deliver a crisis communications plan. I had so many plans written that I was able to condense the crisis communications plan writing process down to two intense days of a group writing retreat. I provided the expertise and base documents, while the public relations team provided a workforce to modify the documents.

Ten years later, the plan still works in every crisis. Granted, the base crisis communications plan is a living document that undergoes constant modification to incorporate the ever-growing list of communications outlets, such as social media.

The reality is, you don’t know how every crisis will unfold.

The secret is to understand the intervals at which you must communicate to key audiences. You must make sure your crisis communications plan has a system in place to gather information, confirm information, then release that information.

The biggest breakthrough for me was unlocking the secret to creating a library of pre-written news releases. Starting with the end in mind, I was able to analyze the questions that get asked in every news conference by the media. Based on those questions and a clear understanding of how journalists will write their news reports, I was able to create a series of statements that include multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank options.

Some of my pre-written news releases have as few as five paragraphs while others have more than 30 paragraphs. Some pre-written news releases are for an event that can be handled with a single press release. Others are three-part releases that can be used to issue advisories before, during, and after an event, such as for an electric company dealing with a winter storm. Still others must exceed three parts, to use during ongoing crises. These pre-written news releases can usually be edited and released in as few as ten minutes. This is in stark contrast to the typical problem of a public relations person sitting before a blank computer screen and writing from scratch, then facing hours of revisions and hours of delayed communications.

What are the constant realities for the company you work for? Virtually every set of scenarios can be broken down into fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options.

A crisis communications plan can be structured to identify your key audiences, the various ways you must communicate to those audiences, and the frequency of your communications.

Is writing this type of crisis communications plan easy? My original plan took about 1,000 hours to develop – that’s six months. Since then, it has evolved with many more hours.

Today, it is ready to launch and implement in as few as two days. If you would like to know more, call me.

If you think it can’t be done, you are correct for yourself. You are not, however, correct for everyone.


Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is an international expert, coach, trainer, author and professional speaker, who has worked with organizations on five continents. Known as the guy to call when it hits the fan, he is widely regarded as an expert in crisis communications and media issues.


5 Ebola Crisis Communications Considerations

By Gerard Braud

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard Braud

Watch this video

Your personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your company (or the company for your work for.) On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you.

Here are 5 Ebola Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudThe crisis may touch your organization because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications and customer communications. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue. Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Ask for help.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Business ROI

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  •  The cost of rumors
  •  The cost of a single case linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  •  The cost of worker illness and lost productivity
  •  The cost of your company going out of business

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your organization and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving the company huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get executive attention in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the CEO and the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all businesses equally to sometimes get their attention. The feared Y2K crisis in 2000 caused CEOs to write checks for millions of dollars, mostly to IT experts. Other companies used it as a reason to develop a small part of their crisis communication plan. Sadly, it was usually targeted at only Y2K issues. The H1N1 threat in 2009 once again got the attention of executives to the extent they were willing to give staff time and money to do what needed to be done.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is once again upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your executives. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human Resources, operations, international travel, and risk management departments all will need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

GM Hires Crisis Communication Expert

By Gerard Braud

GM Crisis ExpertGM has hired a Crisis Communication Expert to help the company communicate their way out of a crisis surrounding their faulty ignition switches, according to headlines.

Why do companies hire crisis communications experts after a crisis?

Why don’t companies hire a crisis communications expert before they ever have a crisis?

Why don’t companies write crisis communications plans so that they can manage a crisis and the communications on their own?

The story of crisis communications is much like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, living the same story daily. That is because every day, another company announces they are hiring a crisis communications expert to magically make everything better after corporate executives allowed a crisis to happen.

Here is an open letter about crisis communication to corporate leaders:

Dear Corporate Executives,

Many of you make bad decisions every day. You put profits before people and when you do, you have the recipe for a disaster. GM executives decided not to spend 57-cents per car, in order to replace faulty ignition switches, because they thought it would cost too much. If they had spent the money, then:

  • People would not have died
  • A crisis would not have happened
  • The company’s reputation would not have been damaged
  • The company would not be paying untold millions to fight or settle cases
  • The company would not be getting grilled by congress
  • The head of GM would not be the butt of jokes for every late night talk show

Corporate executives should hire a crisis communication expert before a crisis happens.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communication expert to make sure their company has a properly written crisis communications plan.

Corporate leaders should stop relying on someone with a spreadsheet to make decisions about revenue that will later damage the company’s reputation.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communications expert to be the cynic at the table. That way, spreadsheet decisions do not lead to revenue decisions that have short-term gains and eventually cause long-term damage to both reputation and revenue.

Corporate executives should commit to protecting their reputation and revenue by having a crisis communication plan that guides their decision making before a crisis happens, during a crisis, and after a crisis

Media Training Advice to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

By Gerard Braud

Toronto Media Training BraudWhen media training a candidate, politician, or elected official, one of the hardest things to teach them is when to shut up.

In every media training class I impart this expert advice to the trainee: “When you are digging a hole for yourself, put down the shovel.”

Media Training BackhoeToronto May Rob Ford has likely never heard this from his media trainer. One must ask, has Rob Ford ever had media training? Instead of putting down the shovel he has brought in a backhoe.

As repulsive as you may find Rob Ford’s latest quote, I’m going to give it to you here just to show what an amazing failure this guy is every time he is questioned by reporters. You can watch the video for yourself.

“Oliver Gondek says that I want to eat her pussy and Oliver Gondek, I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home,” said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

From Vancouver to Toronto, Canadians have dominated the news for the past two weeks for saying things to the media that they should not say. Each time, they make the situation worse with a poorly executed apology. We saw that last week with Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson and now with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Each case, the spokesman created their own crisis by what they said. Dare I say the United States media has not covered this much news from Canada in my lifetime?

Admittedly it is difficult to media train certain people with certain personality types. Certain rich or powerful people are arrogant enough, or over confident enough, that their inflated egos preclude them from seeking expert advice and expert coaching in order to improve their skills in many areas, including talking to the media.

Oh! Canada!

Media Training Jon StewartIf after this you need to have a good laugh, watch John Stewart’s coverage of this story on The Daily Show.


Experts in Crisis Communication Agree: Home Depot Tweet Gone Wrong: 5 Things Your Public Relations Team Should Do Right Now

HD TweetBy Gerard Braud

Experts in crisis communication know social media in corporate communications is highly likely to lead to a crisis. I would say more brands are likely to be harmed than helped by a social media brand page.

Home Depot leaders acted swiftly to fire an outside agency and an employee who posted a picture on Twitter that depicted two black drummers and a third drummer with a monkey mask, with the tweet, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Good job Home Depot for acting swiftly. Good job Home Depot for terminating the agency and personnel who clearly don’t understand the need to think before Tweeting.

Immediately there were cries of racism. The drummers were beating on Home Depot plastic buckets and sitting in front of a promotional banner for Home Depot’s sponsorship of College Game Day.

To their credit, Home Depot used the same offending brand Twitter page to post an apology that said, “We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive. Deeply sorry. We terminated agency and individual who posted it.”

HD Appology tweetI love that in a world where lawyers don’t let public relations employees say “sorry,” that Home Depot uses the word “sorry.” I love that they use the word “stupid.” The tweet apology is well written and conveys the anger the company feels toward the offending agency and employee.

HD FacebookHome Depot uses a Facebook and YouTube brand page, but nothing is posted there relating to the Tweet. The Home Depot home page and Media Center also have no news releases or apologies.

From a crisis communication perspective, in this case I think I agree with the Home Depot public relations and crisis communication strategy to confine the crisis to only the offending branch of social media and not bring it over to Facebook or YouTube. However, now that the story is making headlines in newspapers and morning television, I think an apology in the corporate Media Center newsroom on their primary website would be in order. In fact, I would have put up a news release apology in the corporate site newsroom within minutes of issuing the apology tweet. By the way, in the crisis communication plan system that I suggest you have, such an apology would be pre-written and pre-approved on a clear sunny day… written months ago and waiting in the addendum of your crisis communication plan.

HD Homepage 2In a crisis, it is important to tell the story from your perspective and to own the search engine optimization (SEO) for your brand and your story. Posting in your corporate newsroom helps with this. Failure to do so sends anyone searching for information to other pontifications, reports and blogs… like this one.

What should you do in your brand?

1)  Review your social media policy and make it tough. The social media policies that we write at Braud Communications on behalf of our clients are brutally tough.


2)  Terminate those who post recklessly.


HD snarky tweets3) Pre-determine whether a social media crisis requires response on all social media channels or only the offending channel.


4) Pre-determine if your home page newsroom will be used for an apology. I think it should be used.


5) Consider establishing a rule that two to three internal eyes need to review every social media post before anyone hits send. Make sure those 2 to 3 people represent the cultural and age diversity of your audience. In the case of Home Depot, it was clear that the age or cultural background of the person who posted this tweet was such that it likely never crossed their mind that this tweet might be considered racist.

As crisis communication case studies go, I’ll say Home Depot is handling this one well.