It’s inevitable. It’s Friday. Late afternoon. The call (to the crisis communications counsel, attorney and/or risk management firm) comes. “Hi, we’re dealing with a situation here. I’m not sure if it’s really a crisis, we’re reaching out to touch base, just in case.”
Nine times out of ten, it is, indeed, a crisis. (One matter in particular stands out in my mind: an organization called with a similar question, regarding what was quite clearly, to me, a perfect storm that had been building for weeks. It would, in a day, become a national, front-page story that publicly lingered for a month and is still referenced years later.)
We are available to our clients when they need us, regardless of the time or day. We appreciate the opportunity to work with them, even when it’s around the clock. But Friday afternoon is not a good time to finally take stock of a breaking issue. It has nothing to do with the damper it might cause on our weekends, and everything to do with how the timing affects communications, resolution and so much more.
So why do so many people wait until Friday afternoons to recognize their risk and reach out for help?
In most cases, the issue has come to light internally earlier in the week. Executives and others (trustees, legal counsel, etc.) have wrestled with how it might unfold, gathered information, held numerous meetings and conference calls, and, sometimes, suspected it might resolve itself. That takes time. By Friday, with the weekend looming, it can become clear that the crisis-to-be is not going away and has real risk implications. Before everyone gathers for the weekend, and sometimes because it’s the first moment folks have had to take a breath, they decide to elevate the approach to managing things. Maybe they thought they didn’t need external help until then, or maybe they didn’t know who to call.
That might sound sensible. And it is, in a way, because you want to have a good grasp of the situation before causing undue alarm, spending resources unnecessarily, or going down the wrong path.
But here’s why it’s also not a good idea.
- Even if the best strategy or content can be pulled together quickly, it’s a difficult time to corral decision-makers who need to weigh in or approve the next steps.
- People are less available to convene in person, if need be, over the weekend. It’s even difficult to convene electronically.
- Absent decisions and/or execution. There is more likelihood that whatever-it-is will leak over the weekend, causing the organization to lose control of the narrative and be on the defensive.
- If decision-makers agree that the best advice is to notify stakeholders immediately, to avoid leaks and be ahead of the narrative, it sends the unfortunate message that by sending late on a Friday (or worse, over the weekend), the organization is trying to bury the information.
- Social media doesn’t take a break on the weekends. Whoever is responsible for monitoring and managing the organization’s social media may not have been brought into the “circle of trust.” The ability to monitor and to create and execute a social media strategy might be impacted.
- Media is also 24/7. If your news leaks over the weekend, you may not be able to reach your existing media relationships, and “unfriendly” media might be more challenging to manage.
- It’s just a fact: the outcomes are better when decisions and content are managed by cooler heads. Mistakes and omissions can occur when people are too rushed.
A long time ago a good friend told me, “If your gut tells you something, go with it. Your gut is usually right.” If it’s Monday or Tuesday and something is brewing, get ahead of it. Consult your crisis communications plan, or absent a plan, do a “gut check” with your experts early on. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, a stitch in time saves nine, measure twice, cut once…you get the idea. We’re happy to talk any Friday afternoon, but there’s much more value in calling early in the week.