When Communication turns into Crisis Communication

When you’re a leader, you must think about what you say.  Not only is your reputation at stake, but your words can take on an impact bigger than you thought.  

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should know that by now.  But she has egg on her face. And her communications have turned into a crisis communications case study.   Media relations experts are thrilled that she has given a fine example of what NOT to say or do.  

Want to learn from her communication no-no’s?  Here’s an article written by a media relations guru whose work I admire.

Nancy Pelosi’s Three Classic Mistakes

By Jerry Brown, APR

Nancy Pelosi has made three classic mistakes in telling what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

·         She didn’t tell the whole story.  Crisis Communications 101:  When you’re in a crisis communication situation, tell the whole story at the beginning.  If you don’t, all those ugly facts you want to hide are fodder for keeping a bad story alive.  And each new forced disclosure will hurt your credibility.  Pelosi has been telling her story in stages.  And the news conference she called last week in an apparent effort to put the story to rest didn’t work because her words were so carefully parsed that she still doesn’t appear to have told all she knows.  This is a politically charged story.  So, Pelosi’s political opponents will do all they can to keep the story alive.  She’s helping them do that.

·         She’s relying on the “rules” to excuse her own behavior.  In a crisis situation, saying you met regulatory or legal requirements is a useless defense (except in court).  If your actions contributed to the problem, the rest of us don’t care whether you met whatever legal or regulatory rules applied.  We don’t trust the rules to protect us.  In Pelosi’s case, she uses this defense to explain why she didn’t complain about waterboarding of prisoners even after a member of her staff told her the CIA had told him they were doing it.

·         She picked a fight while trying to shut down the story.  Pelosi accused the CIA of routinely lying to members of Congress.  That kind of accusation wasn’t going to go unanswered.  Not a good strategy when you want a story to go away.

None of us like to own up to mistakes or misdeeds.  That’s why so many companies make the same classic mistakes Pelosi has made with her current predicament.

It’s not easy to come clean when you’ve screwed up and the world is watching.  But, if you want the story to go away quickly, it’s the only chance you have at making that happen.

That’s my two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?


This entry was posted by Jean Palmer Heck in Analyses of, General articles, Media Relations. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *