I often quote a former co-worker who says networking isn’t about who you know, it’s about who knows you. It’s also about what they know about you and about your company. And that is never more true when you are in crisis and need to rely on your network to listen to you tell your story or help you tell it.
That’s why it’s so important to build open, honest relationships with key constituents when business is calm. And, to have solid positive messages about your organization as part of your ongoing communications. It’s always beneficial to have a strong supply of deposits in the goodwill bank.
There once was a CEO of a major health care company who did not value building relationships with the media. I heard this from both local and national reporters. He wouldn’t give them the time of day, unless he wanted something from them. Then, one day, this CEO got in some trouble with his shareholders. No media outlet was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – or give him the opportunity to tell his side of the story. They completely skewered him. I suspect he didn’t have good relationships with others. He ultimately left the company (and the state).
Networking with the media is not the only important relationship in a crisis. Building strong relationships with all internal and external audiences is equally important.
Think employees, investors, board members, medical staff, contractors, regulators, payers, patients, other providers and, of course, media (traditional and social). How do you communicate with them? Is it regular? Are your communications transparent? That’s all part of networking. And it’s important to their networking.
Imagine your organization is facing an investigation about a potential compliance issue. It gets picked up by a media source and spread all over social media.
Consider these two scenarios:
Scenario A: You don’t have regular communications or systems to reach out to your key internal audiences and you don’t think it’s important to tell them what is going on yet. A board member or employee sees a post about the issue before you have alerted them to the situation and the facts. He or she is at an event when the story breaks and someone asks them what is going on. All this person knows to tell them is what he or she has seen on the internet or in the media.
Scenario B: You have regular communications with internal audiences via an intranet system, email, text message and/or phone tree. As soon as you find out about the investigation, you let them know the facts and provide them with some answers they can use to respond to friends and colleagues who ask them about it.
Which scenario fits your company? If it’s A, consider revisiting how you communicate with your network. If it’s B, keep up the good (net)work.
By Aileen Katcher, APR, Fellow PRSA