We imagine it was a busy weekend for James, Carrie and Marie. They are listed as media contacts for Booz Allen, a company with corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia. What does the company do?
Under a “What We Do” tab on the company’s website, you can click on about 30 options. The company provides “management and technology consulting services to the US government in defense, intelligence, and civil markets, and to major corporations, institutions, and not-for profit organizations.” It is a public company with about 25,000 employees and $5.86 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2012. And one of those employees is 29-year-old Edward Snowden, the man who, according to media reports, leaked the information that led to our national debate on government surveillance of the Internet and phone calls.
A company press release stated, “Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.”
Edwin G. Booz was an entrepreneur. In 1914, he graduated with a master’s degree from Northwestern University, where we graduated 80 years later. After graduation, he started The Business Research Service, a consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. His first major client was the Illinois State Railroad. According to the company’s website, in 1940 “Secretary of Navy Frank Knox asks firm to help prepare US Navy for war.” By 1947, company sales exceeded two million dollars.
So after writing a 75-word press release, now what? Our 11 recommendations for crisis communications:
- Devise a strategy to talk to the media beyond the initial press release. The company hopefully has already established strong relationships with journalists they trust and who they can now turn to discuss this issue.
- Talk to the media. The company’s media contacts page leads us to believe it has learned of ways to discuss sensitive topics publicly without violating confidentiality.
- Ensure none of its representatives intentionally or unintentionally mislead the media when under increasing pressure to quickly answer questions or provide details. Be as transparent as possible.
- Ensure those assigned to speak to the media sound genuine and not robotic.
- Share its story without allowing the media to simply characterize it as a behemoth company that makes tons of money. The company obviously identifies with its story and appreciates its history. The website includes a timeline outlining its history decade by decade.
- Avoid using lingo and speak in everyday language when it talks to the media.
- Focus on three key messages, repeat them and don’t delve into unnecessary details that will dilute their key messages.
- Brace for tough questions, practice for the worst and be ready to take the high road with their answers without getting angry.
- Identify several phrases it should use instead of “no comment” when facing questions it cannot answer.
- Talk with employees, help them understand what happened and share key messages with them.
- Don’t leave out social media. Within the first few hours of this news breaking, people are already hammering the company on its Facebook page. Someone needs to develop a strategy to respond to some of these comments.