Frequently Asked Questions

No matter your industry, there are always core questions that customers ask before they begin a partnership with a supplier.  Nevertheless, largely due to the sensitivity and significance of the work, I think that crisis communications / reputation management has to be one of the most unique.  Outlined below are a few commonly asked questions that will help you determine our approach, learn a little more about KITH and, I hope, see how we differentiate ourselves from other firms.

Importantly, when a brand is in crisis, the focus is ‘now, now, now’ and organizations need urgent solutions. No matter who you choose to work with, preparation is key so please ask these questions before something happens, no matter who you work with. That way, you can start the response with a pre-vetted partner as quickly as possible.

How fast can you get here?
This is one of the first questions I get when I am on a call with a prospective client in a crisis. The good news is that by just being on the call, I’m already engaged and as soon as we agree to work together, I am totally focused on solving your problems.

As soon as we can get the key stakeholders on a call – ideally bringing them onto the line right away – we will start work.

That means that we transition to analyzing the situation and begin to design our initial strategy and response plan before the call is over. Importantly, before we leave that call we will give you some immediate actions to triage the situation, deal with the most pressing needs and lay the groundwork for the main response. Typically, either myself or a senior team member (see the next question) will be on a plane and be in your offices the next day, normally within 18 hours of the first call. While someone is in transit, KITH is still supporting you on the phone so we can build on that initial momentum.

Do we get you or somebody else on your team?
This is one of the key differentiators of working with KITH. It’s primarily me, Bill Coletti, working directly with you. We intentionally have a small group of clients at any given time and often -regretfully – say ‘no’ if we’re going to exceed that capacity. That allows me to make the commitment to be there to support you if something goes wrong. The first two or three days of a crisis is critical, and I will almost always be there for those key times. If it will be difficult for me to stay on the ground much beyond two or three days I will let you know at the outset and we can address this in two ways.

Firstly, I might bring a senior team member with me, especially where a situation needs additional capacity or specific skills. This ensures that you have the on-the-ground capacity to support you when it is most needed. This other team member will remain with you if I can’t stay on site for an extended period of time. Secondly, while I might have the most experience as a crisis communicator, KITH is a world-class team and everyone has the requisite skills to help manage a crisis. This allows us to support you remotely for extended periods of time.

Ultimately, however, I am focused on providing you with the support you need and am always part of the response, irrespective of location.

When will this be over?

The best answer to this is ‘when we get to the bottom of things and have been as transparent as possible’.  This isn’t easy, and it can take time to discover the facts, but there is often a surprisingly limited public attention span.  So, depending upon the size of the crisis and the issues that are involved, your crisis might only have a shelf life of two to five days.  That’s not to say that everything is finished – it might last months if investigations or litigation arise – but your time in the public eye could be quite limited.

There are obviously exceptions and BP’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Penn State athletics are examples of crises with lifespans measures in months or even years.   These are huge windows so, if you are facing something of that magnitude, you need to be prepared for the long-haul. However, it’s often no more than a five-day window by which time the media cycle, even social media, has moved on.

What's going to happen next?
When I get asked this question, it’s important to clarify between what’s going to happen next with the crisis or what’s going to happen next with our engagement.

As far as predicting what happens next in the crisis, although we don’t have a crystal ball, identifying likely courses for the crisis is what we are paid to do. We believe that there is a predictable trajectory for most of these situations and, with careful analysis and planning, we have the ability to ‘look around corners’ and determine what could happen next. By mapping out these possible scenarios, we can then develop appropriate contingencies so whatever course things take, you are prepared.

[AGS Comment – I may have mis-represented the exact contract arrangements here and apologize if this next part is incorrect. Ditto on the pricing in the next question.]

If you decide to engage with us, we try to keep things simple as the last thing you need at this stage is a complex agreement to work though.

We have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ pricing model where we establish a fixed fee for a 30-day engagement at the outset.
Once we agree to these terms, we deploy and are with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, until the situation comes to its logical conclusion.
Anything beyond the initial 30-days, or where live support is not required, such as forward-looking planning or after-action reviews, are treated as consulting engagements with a fixed set of deliverables and fees.

How much does it cost?

We require an initial retainer of $25,000 before we deploy and this covers the initial 30-day engagement.  If more or less that the 30-days is required, we pro-rate that amount but our minimum charge for a deployment or recurring engagement is $10,000 a month.

Will you be our spokesperson?

I can act as your spokesperson and I have hours on camera which have allowed me to develop the necessary skills. However, I probably won’t take on this role for two reasons.

Firstly, authenticity.  Your spokesperson has to be a current member of your team, not an outsider.  Stakeholders want to hear from you, not a ‘hired gun’ and bringing in an outside can smack of trying to hide something.  We never lie (see a later question on that) but we just won’t have the same degree of credibility as a spokesperson from your organization.

Secondly, understanding.  At KITH, we pride ourselves on being quick studies but there is only so much that we can learn about a business in a short period of time.  Having a staff member as spokesperson means that they can respond to broader questions about the business – while still sticking to the key messages – with authority and confidence.

However, even though we won’t act as your spokesperson, we will work alongside someone with the gravitas, thoughtfulness, experience and seniority to ensure that they have the necessary skills for this kind of media engagement.  This allows us to work with you to develop the most effective messages and prepare your spokesperson who can then deliver these in the most effective manner.

Will you be able to spend one-on-one time with our CEO?

Absolutely. In fact, I won’t take on an engagement if I can’t work one-on-one with the CEO.  This isn’t an issue of my ego but as the key decision maker and your organization’s most senior spokesperson, the CEO is critical to the success of the response.

So, although I don’t smother the CEO or monopolize their time, our role is to help them execute the most effective strategy to solve your issue.  We do this in three ways.

  • We get to know the CEO, the organization and your objectives so we can develop a strategy that not only allows you to survive the crisis but where you emerge with your values and reputation intact.
  • We spend a lot of time working with CEOs and making sure that those leaders are prepared, not only tactically but also emotionally.  They need to understand how they’re going to take accountability in order to get to the result that they want: to resolve the situation and return to ‘normality’, both internally and for any affected stakeholders.
  • We work on the tactical elements of developing and delivering your message to your key stakeholders effectively.  What are you going to say? How are you going to say it? And, who are you going to say it to?

But very often our work transitions into supporting leaders while they are managing the challenges of the crisis: a time when their reputation and the reputation of their firms are going to be significantly impacted. The phrase I love here is “the crucible of crisis doesn’t develop your leadership, it reveals it.”

Very rarely have we seen leaders that grow into the role. You either have this skill set or you don’t and the ability to respond nimbly is a real test of CEOs.  Our role is to prepare your CEO and allow her to realize her true potential at such a critical time.

We've never gone through this and we're simply not ready. How can you help?

Most companies aren’t ready for these major crisis events or critical moments that impact their operations. However, we have [insert cumulative number of years] of expertise and our role is to share that collective insight to help you navigate your way through the crisis.  Crisis management is what we think about – and do – every day.

In a crisis, there is a sense of urgency and a need for speed which, coupled with the stress of the situation, can feel overwhelming.  However, if you approach the crisis with the same clarity and drive that built your business, you can succeed. The main difference is that you are working in an environment where time and information are scarce.  However, if you understand your mission and values, the chain of command, and can optimize your decision-making processes, even though you’ve never been through a situation like this before, you can get through it. Our role is to aid you in that process and to act as expert counsel for your leadership team.

How can we trust you?
Given that I am entrusted to help steer organizations though the most challenging of times, it’s odd that I’ve only been asked this question once. Even then, I don’t believe that it was an issue of honesty but rather one of ‘we are going to take your word for what we need to do next but we’ve never had an opportunity to meet’.

The best assurance I can give is that once I begin an engagement with you, our interests are completely aligned: the objective is to help you survive and recover as quickly as possible. So, I have your best interests at heart and we are going to get you through this crisis as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

My promise is to give you nothing but the best counsel that we can based on our experience and insights. If it’s a situation we haven’t been involved in, we are going to be very candid and say ‘we’ve not done this, this is unchartered territory for us’.

That said, we know that if we put smart people who have crisis experience and smart people who know the culture of an organization together, we can absolutely get through it. We have done this numerous times. However, if we don’t think we can assist, we will let you know as early as possible as it is in neither of our interests for us to let you down.

I appreciate that at the outset it is a bit of a leap of faith and this element of trust needs to be developed over time and earned. To help assuage any concerns you may have, I can also share the details of some other clients who can vouch for us. (See next question.)

Can we check your references?

Absolutely. Although we’re not going to be able to share all of the different clients that we’ve worked with, we’re happy to share a reference or two. These are both folks that we have worked with on training and planning as well as those that we’ve worked with during actual crises.

Tell us how you will spin for us?

The notion of spin has been conflated with the notion of lying and we don’t lie. You have to tell the truth in these situations because the truth is ultimately going to come out and the cover-up is always worse than the initial offense.

If you meant to do something and it was a strategic decision, you have to own it and explain it. If you made a mistake, you have to say, ‘we made a mistake’, apologize and then fix it. If it’s something that’s happening to your organization, perhaps a natural disaster or a third-party data breach, it’s still your crisis and your focus needs to be on customers.

Sometimes people believe that not telling the whole truth might serve them well. It does not, and you will never recover your credibility after your first lie. The best defense quite frankly is if you mess up, tell the truth, get past it and work on getting back to ‘business as usual’ as fast as possible.

However, if the challenge is that you are not in a position to tell the truth, or if your culture is one of hiding information, that’s not something that we can help with.  Crises require brutal honesty and as we said earlier, the crucible of crisis doesn’t develop your leadership, it reveals who you really are. If you enter a crisis unwilling to be honest, then we won’t be able to work with you.

Finally, this honestly is also something you are paying us for.  A key asset of any external support should be objectivity and we will always tell you the truth as we see it, no matter how painful that might be.  Again, the longer it takes to get to the bottom of things, the worse it will get.

Do you ever do message testing and research?
If have the luxury of time we can conduct initial rapid-fire focus groups or ask questions in an online panel to determine how people feel about issues or messages. However, this is of limited use in a crisis because it takes time to stand this up and to analyze the results. Normally don’t have enough time in the initial stages to put this into practice during a crisis. In an extended event, we would be able to use these techniques to better prepare your response to the situation.
Who would you expect to be 'in the room' during a crisis?
This depends on the situation and your organization. At a minimum, you need the CEO, general counsel and someone responsible for external issues. However, there have also been times when I’ve been in situations where we needed 15-20 executives to figure out what’s going on and what to do. The key is to only have the critical decision-makers, those with real authority, and the appropriate subject matter experts involved and this may change as the situation develops.

And, lastly – and most importantly – everyone in the room needs to be someone that the CEO trusts to actually get the job done.

Why do people not pick your firm?

There are a lot of different answers to this question. It could be fit, it could be our capacity, it could be the limitation of our ideas. But, what we’ve found is that all we do is simply tell the truth and make it clear to clients what we think will happen next and how we will help them get through the situation with truth and sincerity. We have these discussions before the engagement starts so our views and approach are clear from the outset.  Like any kind of relationship, sometimes things don’t mesh so if it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit.

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