Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth ~ Mike Tyson
Sometimes, your brand is in the midst of crisis.
Discord is buzzing. Twitter is pounding.
Your network is down. It could be a bug or worse, a hack.
What do you do?
Get ahead of the story
Everything can and will come out. The key is when, how, and by whom. To minimize harm and regain trust, proactively share the full story on your terms, in your context, and at your chosen time. You want to own the story, not it owning you. Taking control immediately avoids potential damage and boosts your credibility, aiding trust rebuilding.
Hence, the first rule in crisis communications is almost always full disclosure. It’s the first step on the road to recovery. You want to get ahead of the story, and not get run over by it. Effective damage control is built on the recognition that everything can and will come out.
Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and United Airlines all would have benefitted from following this principle better.
"Everything you read is true"
Consider two politicians. The first is US President Bill Clinton. The second is now California governor, but then mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom. Both cheated on their wives. Clinton slept with Monica Lewinsky, a white house intern. Gavin slept with a campaign staff manager, who just happened to be his campaign manager's wife.
Both politicians had their affairs caught. But each handled it differently.
Clinton didn't follow the principle of full disclosure. Worse, he denied it entirely. And his response to media is cemented in history as a fu*k up. The way he handled the situation led the media and independent investigations to keep searching for the real story, eventually leading to Clinton's impeachment.
Gavin Newsom on the other hand did follow the principle of full disclosure. Asked at City Hall about his actions as the news first broke, the mayor stated,
“I’m not making any public comment. I’m just not."
Then, the next day, with his political career on the line, the mayor approached the podium for the first time to address the story. He faced a fervent press corps gathered at San Francisco's historic City Hall.
The mayor looked over the crowd, stepped to the podium, and simply stated:
I want to make it clear that everything you’ve read is true and I’m deeply sorry about that . . . I hurt someone I care deeply about . . . and his family and friends, and that is something I’m deeply sad about and sorry for.”
Unlike Bill Clinton, Newsom did not attempt to parse the facts. No excuses or half-truths were offered. It was full disclosure.
Newsom then had the discipline to shut up. Bill Clinton kept denying.
Nine months later, Newsom was re-elected mayor of San Francisco with a historic margin. In 2010, he was elected statewide as the lieutenant governor of California. And now he is governor of California.
And here's why full disclosure works: there's no more news to report. The whole story is out. Media moves onto the next story that's not you. The public's amnesia kicks in.
Embracing full disclosure becomes your shield against harm, granting you the pivotal opportunity to take control, shape, and define an issue on your own terms. It's about outmaneuvering those who may stand against you or hold a vested interest in fueling the fire.
In other words, he or she who discloses first, wins.
In one fell swoop
Whether you like it or not, the whole story is going to find its way out. So the story is coming—the question is whether you will be run over by the story, or whether you will be able to get in front of it.
Full disclosure allows you to get the news out in one fell swoop, and thus avoid being swamped by the constant drip, drip, drip nature of the story.
It's not the crime, it's the cover up ~ unknown
Tell the whole story and nothing but the story, as full disclosure allows you to avoid the “cover-up” trap. It’s often the cover-up aspect of a crisis that does the most severe damage.
Don't delay disclosure
How fast you fully disclose matters.
In 2017, Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the United States, suffered a massive data breach that exposed sensitive personal information, including social security numbers, of approximately 143 million Americans.
Equifax discovered the breach in late July 2017 but did not disclose it to the public until September, almost two months later. This delay gave hackers more time to exploit the stolen data.
Media and influencers skewered Equifax over this delayed disclosure.
When Equifax did disclose the breach, their communication was vague and lacked specific details. This left affected individuals in the dark about the extent of the breach and how it might impact them.
Shield your credibility
In a crisis, credibility is vital. Being upfront and disclosing information shields your credibility, preventing it from eroding over time. Disclosure also acts as a tool to turn information into credibility.
Call it what it is
In August 2022, crypto bridge Nomad was the victim of a chaotic hack in which many different users piled on to drain value from the project. Exploiters were able to drain over $190 million in value from the blockchain protocol.
The hack was acknowledged by the Nomad project’s official Twitter account on Monday, August 1st, initially as an “incident” that was being investigated.
The next day, Nomad continued to be vague about what was happening, calling it a "situation".
Meanwhile, media is reporting far worse:
Nomad continued to not call it for what it was - a huge hack with huge losses. Ultimately, this led to loss of credibility and the sense that Nomad was out of touch by continuing to position it as the "8-1-2022 incident".
Full disclosure works – but only once. You can't have a series of public disclosures on the same subject. Basically, you get one chance to say you're sorry. The public forgives mistakes, especially when you admit them.
However, you can't test their patience. For effective disclosure, full transparency is essential, and the behavior that led to the disclosure must not repeat.