Handling a crisis is partly about staying calm and somewhat removed from the situation at hand.  When a client calls with an issue that they believe to be detrimental, they rely on you as their communications counselor to help guide them through.

The only way to do that is to be sympathetic of course, so they know you care as much as they do, but to also help them see the issue from another perspective – that of the outsider looking in. Too often when a client is looking at a potential problem in the public eye, they see the issue larger and with more attention than it may likely yield to the audiences whom they believe are looking.

As a crisis communications manager’s, it is our job not just to craft pithy statements and avoid press contact, but it is to show the client the possible impact of saying the wrong things when no one really knew the issue existed in the first place. We have a client, a fairly well known company that had represented a famous artist.  That artist was suing a former employee of our client, who had left the firm and taken the client with him.  Our client was so convinced that media would scrutinize them and accuse them of shady practices, they wanted to put out a release denying all involvement and attacking the individual in question.

We saw the situation more clearly and advised that a release like that would seem, in the word’s of Shakespeare’s Queen Gertrude,  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  

They had nothing to apologize for and no one was making an accusation against them. We suggested a comment about how they have been in business for decades and have always believed in honest business practices, and their client list is a testament to that.  They were more adamant about their beliefs, and we compromised on a less invasive statement that spoke of the issue more directly.

We released the statement on a limited basis to the few we knew covered the industry, and the word back from Bloomberg, WSJ and New Yorker, was “We knew they were not involved, we just want to talk to them about their solid client list and history.” We knew.  Thankfully we did not do a newswire release on that.

No one else knew about the matter.  Keep it that way. Keep a level head, counsel wisely and push for your position.  In a PR crisis, “The client is always right” is not applicable; they hire people like us because they just cannot do it alone.