Communication, Crisis Communication

By Bruna Smith

Crisis communication students from the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program at the University of San Francisco had the opportunity to interact with a special guest last week: Julie Inouye, Senior Director of Corporate Communications and Marketing of LinkedIn. I had the privilege to be in this group, so am glad to share what I learned during this inspirational conversation.

Julie started her career studying communications at college not necessarily understanding what this meant or what career path would come out of it. “I was really lucky early on to get some internships in the PR role and I loved it. The real kicker was being a CNN intern during 9/11. At the time, I was one of the folks that answered the press hotline when we got a call saying that the second plane had hit the second tower. I remember that day so vividly. It was a horrible experience, but it sort of cemented for me that I was at the right place,” she said.

The nature of not knowing what’s next is what kept Julie in the PR world. She worked for major companies such as Yahoo, Sony, and LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is probably where I grew the most in my communications career because of the crazy journey. I started at the company in 2010, when there were just 800 employees. Seven years later, I can see all the change and growth we went through.”

Five Key Guiding Communication Principles

Julie also shared with us five guiding principles that she learned during her career as a professional communicator:

1.     Not all issues are created equal

If you are exposed to an issue, you have to put it in the perspective of all the other things that are happening in the company. Maybe it isn’t such a big deal. There are varying degrees of issues, so it is incredibly important to understand them in order to respond appropriately with effective strategies and tactics.

2.    We are brand ambassadors (not publicists)

Sometimes, there are going to be issues you will have to deal with that aren’t only about the people you are reporting to, or the CEO, or the people who are running the company. We have issues that concern people all the time and you have to make a choice as a communications professional: are you going to do what is better for the company or the person at the heart of the issue? The answer is that you always have to align yourself with what’s best for the company.

3.     Internal and External Communications are two sides of the same coin

Many people see Internal and External Communications as separate, but I see them as two sides of the same coin. What’s important to understand is that just because you are doing one doesn’t mean the other channel is open. For example, when a safety issue happens, you shouldn’t put out a press release or a reactive statement hastily. External channels don’t light up at all, but absolutely we would have lit up all the channels for internal communication. On the other hand, there are things that externally are really a big deal, like if our site fails to function for a whole day. Employees probably wouldn’t be our first audience to communicate that to; our customers and members would take priority.

4.       Credibility = transparency, consistency and humanity

I feel like the companies that do crisis communication best strike an incredible balance in tone. It involves being humble, transparent, and consistent, so a combination of these things is vital. It takes a while to build trust, but it only takes one misstep to break that trust. You need to build equity and credibility with your stakeholders, such as the investors and a board, which grows through consistency, transparency, and keeping true to the core values of the company. All of this matters, and your response and tone must remain consistent.

5.     Think locally, act globally

If you are working for a global company or brand, be sensitive to the fact that there are local regional nuances to how you deal with matters that will impact the entire company and your ecosystem. This is difficult to achieve because things are happening very fast in a crisis situation. Be sure to build a rapid response plan that has been vetted, evangelized, and approved by all stakeholders.

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