Satellite image of oil spill in Gulf. (NASA)

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when your company becomes involved in a crisis.

  1. Communicate. At the very least, make a fact sheet of basic company information and your products.  Answers to”Who, What, When, Where?” is a great template for a fact sheet.
  2. Use your website to keep insiders and outsiders informed. Your website is on 24/7 worldwide. Why not use it to help you provide facts and minimize rumors.
  3. Don’t oversell quality. Zero defects has an almost magical ring to it. But the fact is that in complex systems  even redundant backups don’t always work. Statistically, outlying events can and will occur.
  4. Do demonstrate your sincerity, and discuss the steps that your company is taking to identify the problem, get the problem contained, and the immediate and long term corrective actions that your team is working on.
  5. Don’t speculate on “Cause” nor “Blame.”

As of noon May 3, 2010, Cameron International’s Website has nary a mention of the fact that their company’s Blow Out Preventers may be involved at the BP- Deepwater Horizon spill ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico.

No news. No Comment.

The first quarter earnings release conference call seems to be the only “newsworthy” item on Cameron’s webpage.
No mention of any work or involvement by the Cameron Team to get the situation in the Gulf fixed.
No “Who, what, when, where?” information. No spokesperson.
The Washington Examiner meanwhile reports that Cameron has been named among other companies in “lawsuits seeking damages.”
The AP reports Cameron is the manufacturer of the “fail safe device on the well that is spewing crude into the Gulf” and that Cameron has “$500 million in liability insurance for legal claims.”
That would have probably been good info to have on their own site…
The website provides a company with a powerful means to get the facts out. To show their customers, their employees, other people who may be affected what efforts are being taken to get things under control and restore normalcy.
Guess what BP is talking about on their website?

The best bargain in education is when you learn from other people’s mistakes.
Watch how this one works out.
Meanwhile, how about sitting down with your team  and asking “What if this happened to us?

If you can’t prove it- don’t say it… but when opinion is called for, base it on facts and outline them as the basis for your judgement.
Keep in mind that all external documents should be considered to be read by outside parties including hostile legal counsel, and competitors. And archived and retrievable- anywhere, anytime, worldwide- thanks to Google.

Confidential privacy advice courtesy of Google.
Confidential privacy advice courtesy of Google.

Here’s an  ironic example : note  the  “confidential sponsors only” status on the bottom of this slide from a presentation posted on the world wide web. Note the last bullet point: Issues Management: Privacy as a key topic. Physician, heal thyself!
My 3 guidelines are to make certain that your writing is therefore:

  1. Strictly focused. Stick to the topic of concern. No “subject creep.”
  2. Veracity incarnate. If any aspect is uncertain, give the reader guidelines so that they may make appropriate inferences.
  3. Necessary. The people who will be receiving your work are busy too. Is it absolutely necessary that they get your document? Ask “Why?” 5 times. Remember, like the slide above, it could end up on Google forever.

As Santayana once observed, “It is helpful for a system of philosophy to be substantially true.”
Truth may not be an adequate defense to certain readers, (it may in fact be hostile to their intentions). But as precision manufacturers,  we stand nowhere if not on the facts and data.