Two years of headlines about risky investments and mortgages, loan defaults, data breaches, bank closings and more have not generated much sympathy for bankers and their vendors.
When asked to rate the honesty and ethical standards of different professions, only 19% of people in a Gallup poll ranked bankers as "very high," reflecting eroded trust in bankers. Crises do more to define a company faster than any other singular event.
Sooner or later every bank and bank vendor, small or large, will face a crisis situation that necessitates legal remedies as well as communication to its stakeholders, including its stockholders, customers and prospective stockholders and customers.
Further, the speed at which information travels, whether through viral e-mails, blogs, message boards, 24/7 news (television and Internet), etc., has been a game-changer requiring rapid response to crises.
Bloggers do not have the same adherence to journalistic standards as trusted news sources. Individuals with an opinion, whether or not based on fact or speculation, can post information anonymously without concern for the consequences of their actions.
Additionally, information lives seemingly forever on the Internet, including information about unfortunate events, which may or may not have been reported accurately.
Many companies are not well prepared for the inevitable crisis, and end up uncertain if they have the right balance of wise legal and communications counsel for such an occurrence.
A hurried and unprepared media response in a crisis situation can be as devastating to the company as the crisis itself. Striking the right balance in addressing all legal and communication obligations is challenging.
In the current environment, banks and their vendors are well advised to plan ahead for addressing a crisis by creating a crisis management team of professionals who can act quickly to respond to threats on the company and its business.
Waiting until the crisis occurs to find that balance is not advisable.
For many companies, legal and public relations teams are often kept in separate silos.
When a crisis arises, both are called upon, but typically leadership weighs the advice and sets a course. Sometimes each team reviews materials prepared by the other.
A better approach is to create a crisis plan before an actual crisis hits. These plans outline processes and identify key roles and responsibilities, including the legal and PR teams.
Legal counsel's primary responsibility in a crisis is to protect its client from civil and criminal damages and to help in complying with applicable law, including disclosure and reporting requirements, confidentiality requirements, securities or other regulatory requirements, law enforcement matters, etc.
Public relations counsel's primary responsibility is to protect the client's current and future integrity and reputation and to ensure that the client's message/response is properly and accurately communicated through the best means available and without causing further damage to the company's reputation.
Additionally, media training executives can help build the skill sets and confidence needed in trying times.
As a crisis unfolds, your crisis team will prepare a plan of action to address legal compliance and strategies, develop message points (what occurred and what is being done about it), identify stakeholder priorities (who needs to know) and develop a plan for the best methods to communicate. Your team may expand depending on the nature of the crisis, for example, adding the head of human resources for employee related issues.
Typical stakeholders include: equity owners, directors, customers, prospects, vendors/partners, employees and possibly federal or state governments and their agencies.
The crisis plan should cover all possible legal and PR ramifications, such as identification of spokespersons, law enforcement issues, reporting/notice issues, FAQs and "murder boards" (anticipated questions and approved responses).
The plan also will provide for development of policies for public communications (including possible "no comment" policies) and a plan of action for addressing the many factors that rapidly come into play.
Contrary to popular belief, the media is rarely the best channel to tell the company story. Consider the negative-to-positive story ratio of any issue of The New York Times.
The crisis team rarely has all the facts at the beginning of a crisis, so having a process for feedback is important. Companies have to be able to share additional details and actions as it can precisely and expediently do so. Delay your response, and the response itself may revive speculation and discussion.
Having your legal and PR teams on the same team and working in tandem can create better outcomes and save time.
As Warren Buffett said, " … lose money for the firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless."