communications during crisisContributed by Eden Gillott, the president of Gillott Communications, a crisis PR and bankruptcy communications firm. 

Flooded with emails from companies you forgot even existed or don’t remember opting-in for? Hearing lots of gossip about what’s happening? You’re not alone.

In the past few weeks, our inboxes have been overwhelmed with crisis communications that are entirely off the mark. They’re often boilerplate and seem cold, overloaded with information that leaves you with more questions than answers, and, sadly, sometimes in bad taste.

During uncertain times, even the most well-intentioned spread speculation as they try to make sense of a situation that is confusing and overwhelming—a black swan that emerges rarely, maybe once in a generation or a century.

Here are some pointers I’ve shared with clients, which will turn these boilerplate emails on their heads and slow (and hopefully stop) the rumor mill:

Remember that gossip travels faster than fact.

As the saying goes, lies can race around the globe while the truth is still putting on its pants.

How you handle it makes the difference between the gossip controlling you—or you controlling it. We are currently in a time of incredible uncertainty, which is not only unsettling but a breeding ground for gossip.

According to a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Dismantle Office Politics by Being Transparent,” forcing people to read between the lines can result in “misinterpretation and gossip.” Don’t feed the rumor mill with a void of information. The article recommends being “open about your motives.” The rationale? “You can’t expect an organization to operate at a higher moral level than the one you hold yourself to.”

EO members, be sure to check the the #EOTogether site for the latest webinars and resources from the EO community. We’re in this together. 

Be consistent and on-point with your internal and external crisis communications.

When you’re considering rolling out changes within your company, you must present yourself in the most favorable light—not just with customers, but with your employees. Your employees take cues from you, so make sure your written and verbal communications are calm and reassuring.

Your employees are the front line of your business. They represent your brand. During uncertain times (i.e., coronavirus, economic downturn, rumors of mass layoffs), have your employees focus on doing their jobs well. It won’t end the uncertainty, but it will give them a sense of purpose and take their minds off their anxiety.

Look at the situation from your customer’s perspective (not your own).

When crafting your messaging, frame it through the lens of the recipients. Their question is always the same: “How does this affect me?” Anticipate their concerns, and the framework of your message becomes clear. What remains is finding the right tone, the right words and the right imagery.

Use subject lines that tell the story at a glance.

People scan their inboxes like they scan the news. They see a headline and decide in a split second whether to read the article or move on. Need more space? Leverage the first few words that show up in email previews to drive the rest of your message home.

Pick up the phone and call your most important people (clients, vendors, investors, etc.)

We often forget the impact a phone call can have. It cuts through the noise and creates a deep personal connection. Even if you don’t get them on the phone, leave a voicemail to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Take a coffee break.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, emotional or distracted, don’t feel pressured to send something out immediately.

Stop and think: Will my actions harm or offend others? Put the material down and let it marinate while you take a break to work on or enjoy something else. When you come back, you’ll be refreshed and able to tackle it with a fresh perspective. It could be the pause that saves your reputation.

Eden GillottEden Gillott is president of Gillott Communications, a crisis PR and bankruptcy communications firm. She’s the author of A Business Owner’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting You & Your Business’ Reputation. She participates in EO’s Accelerator program in Los Angeles, California and also sits on the EO Accelator Board there.

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