When One Employee Inspires a Crisis

By: Mark Macias

Rupert Murdoch runs a global media empire that includes Fox News, Fox Business News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Television Network, The New York Post, 20th Century Fox – and others, making him one of the most powerful people in the world.

When it came to influencing readers, Murdoch holds the ink that moves the pen.

But cracks in Murdoch’s concrete empire began to appear in 2011 after a few employees were accused of illegally hacking into voicemails of the British Royal family.

You don’t need to run a global media empire for this type of crisis to impact your company. It only takes one rogue employee to create negative news that splashes your business name on the front pages of the local newspaper.

There is no universal crisis communications book or one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to managing a crisis situation. Each case is individual based on the situation, but here are a few rules that apply to all crises, regardless of the scandal.

1) Get to the bottom of the truth as quickly as possible.

“I don’t know,” can be an acceptable response in the early stages of a crisis as long as it is followed up with “let me find the answers.” Reporters won’t walk away just because you can’t answer their questions, but they will give you time to research it. So if you are learning in real-time that your employees may have engaged in any unethical or illegal behaviors, it is your job to get to the bottom of it quickly.

2) Hold the Guilty Accountable. 

If you discover an employee engaged in any illegal behavior, fire him. It sends a strong message to the media that your company won’t condone any form of behavior that breaks the law.

Likewise, many professions — like journalism — involve ethical standards. If you discover that your employees violated  ethical codes while conducting their jobs, make an example out of them – and don’t be afraid to share it with the media. The public is more forgiving once they realize it is less likely for your mistakes to happen again.

3) Be Open With Your Findings. You may not like what your employees did, but if reporters ask you specific questions, don’t be evasive with your answers. Allow yourself to be human and share your disappointment with the media. Contrition is a trait that makes us all relate to one another.

4) Be Prepared to Announce New Policies. If your internal investigation into the crisis discovers a systemic problem, now is the time to announce a change in policy.

This crisis communications advice isn’t just for business owners. It’s practical information that can apply to managers, political leaders, public personalities, or anyone who could become the face of a scandal.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias has consulted politicians and nonprofits on their crisis communications strategies. He now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.