Hope you enjoy this guest post from Janet Falk!

A crisis may arise spontaneously and take one of these forms:

  • A broken or malfunctioning product;
  • Natural disaster;
  • Poor judgment.

Regardless of the event, senior managers of every organization and company should be prepared to respond using this format: Regret, Recompense, Reform.

Let us look closely at these three aspects and then consider them in the context of the March 2016 announcement by tennis great Maria Sharapova that she tested positively for a drug that was banned by the International Tennis Federation.

Known as the Three R’s, and similar to the education basics of Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic, this pragmatic approach to communication in a tense moment provides reassurance and guidance to management (and employees) when facing hurt and angry customers, accusatory press and the prospect of regulatory investigation.

At the earliest opportunity in the crisis moment, management will prepare and issue a public statement that addresses the situation and incorporates the following, to the extent that the underlying facts are available:

Regret: Apologize, clearly and directly, to those affected, their families and the community. We are very sorry that this occurred and extend our sympathies to those who were hurt by ____ (the accident).

Recompense: State that a replacement, coupon or other object of comparable tangible value will be provided to replace the damaged item. Customers whose frozen chicken legs have the product code 32H5 should return them to the store where they were purchased for another package or a full refund.

Reform: In anticipation of a possible crisis, you may have contracted a consultant of sterling reputation. State, by name if possible, that this company has been hired to investigate the circumstances and recommend steps. Be sure to mention these recommendations will immediately be implemented to ensure that the situation will not recur. We have hired Company X to review the situation and, based on that analysis and recommended procedures, we will implement changes and do our very best to make sure that this incident will never, ever happen again.

In the case of Maria Sharapova, she followed the first step of the Three R’s approach. Within a few days of receiving official notification that she had failed a drug test, she held a press conference to announce this news and her Regret. Stating “I take full responsibility. I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let the sport I love down,” Sharapova delivered a moving performance of apology. She also acknowledged that she will face the consequences of her transgression.

In this instance, there is no Recompense to be paid to the International Tennis Federation or to the fans who watched her play at the Australian Open.

The Reform will be that Sharapova will curtail her usage of the banned drug.

In summary, management should review this formula of the Three R’s and consider the most likely scenarios: tainted product, breach of computer security, employee malfeasance, accident, loss of power and, sadly, possible loss of life, among others. Like the fire drill required to be held quarterly, conduct a simulation several times a year, so the plan can be tested and updated.

Similar to the fire extinguisher on every floor of the building that houses operations, senior management will hope to never use this crisis communication plan. Nonetheless, company executives will sleep more comfortably at night knowing that such a plan is available and has been proven ready for use, if ever needed.

Janet Falk provides Public Relations and Marketing Communications services to law firms, consultants and small businesses that want to attract new clients and retain customers. She helps nonprofit organizations generate media coverage to drive attendance to their events and supporters to their cause. For more information, please visit her website and her LinkedIn profile