Content: Suzanne Buzek

For those that were as eager to have Ann Handley come to Cincinnati for March’s Signature Speaker Series as we on the AMA board were, to hear news the day before that she came down with the flu and was quarantined from traveling was quite disheartening. But I learned some key lessons around what it means for marketers to be prepared when it comes to a highly-anticipated event—and I think it’s safe to say the rest of the board did as well.

Crisis management isn’t just for public relations professionals. Marketers need to be involved, too. Below are some rules of thumb to consider the next time you are planning a big ticket event with a team and have to communicate key changes, or when you have to break unexpected news, or when a new product doesn’t launch perfectly.

Take charge

Before bad news or key changes can get “leaked” to your audience and create confusion, take charge and position your team as primary, credible source for updates. Was there an error? Own it. People forgive very quickly when honesty is prevalent. Have to break bad news? Consult your public relations and legal teammates (whom you should be working next to in these situations anyway) to ensure messages are reviewed, proofed, and approved quickly and reflect the appropriate tone (professional, sympathetic, etc.). Pro tip: having a communications plan ensures accountability, and a firm process is a responsible measure.

Communicate the truth early, often and with brevity

Crisis situations can present a lot of unknowns quickly. In the case of Ann Handley, our board had to deal with the typical five “W”s and the “How”—and it took more than just a conference call over lunch hour. When that’s the case, keep announcements straightforward and brief, and communicate the updates worthy of substance. The first touch of communication may spark questions, so be sure to create the tone that your audience will receive updates as they are available.

Understand that everyone has “been there”, including your audience

No two crises are the same, and yet they will continue to happen. A spirit of cooperation and a touch of humanity can remind your audience that your team is a group of people working to make the best of a non-ideal situation. Kudos to those who can even bring humor to the situation, as Mike Corak did flawlessly in his talk on March 18—with light jokes, graciousness and, of course, lasers.

P.S. – Timing is everything. Check out this helpful resource from PR Daily, published March 18, 2016.