Gold Standard for Crisis Messaging
For the last two weeks, every night at 7 pm, my boys and I have enjoyed watching the Olympics. They check the medal count each morning and cheer for their favorites (Yes, Katie Ledecky, you have some young boys who love you!). They are true sports fans, willing to cheer just as hard for a Team USA rowing team as they are for USA women’s soccer. The amazing athleticism from all over the world was truly a wonder to watch.
When Simone Biles got a case of the “twisties,” the team messaging sprang into action.
As much as I am a bit of an Olympic geek, I couldn’t help but also look at the brand management of the US gymnastics team in absolute wonder too. When Simone Biles got a case of the “twisties,” the team messaging sprang into action. You didn’t hear multiple versions of what happened. No one spoke prematurely. You didn’t hear one team member do an interview that was not exactly consistent with another. While the message was certainly personal for Simone Biles, everyone followed her lead and stayed on message.
The focus on messaging really showed in a Today show interview with Savannah Guthrie where she interviewed both Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles right after Biles withdrew from the competition and both were asked about whether they wanted to see their teammate Simone Biles come out again and compete for another medal. At one point, Chiles seemed to get off script and started to say that she hoped her teammate and best friend would compete, but she suddenly cut herself off mid-sentence, reversed course, and towed the company line and repeated almost word for word what her teammate said seconds earlier in response to the same question. Simone will be evaluated and she will make a decision on what is best for her at the time, so we will just have to wait and see. These young women were like the best politicians almost overnight.
I’m not suggesting that they weren’t genuine or that they weren’t expressing their true feelings. But, the consistency in messaging cannot be a complete coincidence. The important message regarding mental health was communicated, Simone Biles’s heroism and concern for herself and her team came through, and Americans came away in awe, with admiration of not only Biles but an entire team that stepped up. The brand management was expertly choreographed from the top down.
It’s a good example of how to conduct a crisis on, of course, a much smaller scale. If the executive team, for example, decides on what the messaging is and makes sure everyone sticks with that or even appoints a single spokesperson, that can go a long way in painting a united front. We’ve all seen the stories where the CEO says one thing, only to be contradicted by another employee. Or a surprise ambush interview throws everyone off guard. It may not be easy to predict what may happen or when, but having a plan in place, appointing a spokesperson, and making sure everyone from the top down is aware of the talking points can at least ensure a much smoother journey through a crisis. A crisis is certainly nothing anyone or any business welcomes, but getting out of a crisis quickly with a concerted effort on messaging can be a truly gratifying victory.