It’s About Trust
Last month Jim Lukaszewski spoke with a dozen of us on crisis management at the League of American Orchestras Conference in Dallas. While he spoke off the cuff, every sentence followed a clear narrative. He preached a generosity of information with a generous spirit.
The Issue is to Settle People Down
Lukaszewski segmented the public into a rainbow of emotional types and interest levels in a crisis. A small number of people, those feeling themselves to be victims, wield power for a simple reason: they’re 24/7, obsessed with getting back at someone. Their questions are predictable—so answer their questions! It’s not that that will satisfy them; a victim is intellectually deaf.
The issue is to settle people down in general. Others, who are by default less interested, can feel there’s something wrong when questions aren’t answered, when there’s secrecy. The objective is to get them disinterested again. A question is an opportunity to communicate. Answer every question.
Lukaszewski offered a nugget of advice with every sentence. Some of my favorites were:
- Truth is 15% facts, 85% emotion. Executives tend to rely on numbers too much. This just makes people angry.
- Set up a system to harvest questions.
- Information that’s helpful should be put out early—in advance of being asked—in the interest of candor.
- Always use positive language.
- There’s no reason ever to do blackouts. Why hamper oneself? [Of course it can be productive for musicians and management to negotiate in confidence. But how could anything called a "blackout" be good?]
- Subtract the yesterday from things.
- Short answers of 75-150 words are best. People can take 75-word scripts repeatedly. Put them up where people can see them.
- Create a mini-site.
- If reporters get it wrong, that’s a chance to continue the conversation.
- Lukaszewski has a particular side-by-side format he likes to use on the web when faced with incorrect information that has been published. Corrections and clarifications (quotes, with wrong stuff in bold) are put in a column on the left. Commentary, in positive and declaratory language, is put in the right column.
Truth with an Attitude
Our communications intentions should show forth these principles:
- Candor, or truth with an attitude, as fundamental to trust.
- Openness and accessibility from principals, not spokespeople.
- Responsiveness to the stickiest questions there are, no matter who asks the questions.
- Engagement, face to face when possible.
- Correction/clarification /commentary.
I see why Lukaszewski is a legend in the communications business. He speaks directly and coherently, always telling a story in a structured manner. His generous spirit can be seen in his e911.com website, which is a large teaching site about public relations. I’m grateful that Judith Kurnick at the League invited him to the Conference.