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Being truthful in a crisis is key

By Colleen O'Connell

ben-hershey-417746-unsplashUrban Meyer’s denial made a crisis situation more complicated

In any line of communication, the audience must trust you. Your message needs to be clear and straightforward. This prevents any confusion or feelings of distrust that may arise if your audience doesn’t believe your message.


The Ohio State crisis situation quickly spiraled out of control as a result of the initial statements Coach Urban Meyer made during Big Ten media days. One day after journalist Brett McMurphy’s article appeared suggesting Meyer knew about allegations of domestic abuse by assistant coach Zach Smith, Meyer was denying any past knowledge of the situation. That denial created an immediate distrust between Meyer and his audience. It also created a conflicting public perception regarding any activities or community service programs focused on the prevention of domestic violence that Ohio State participates in under Meyer’s direction.


Rather than deny knowledge of a situation, it’s acceptable to have a blanket statement to refer to at first. You’re still acknowledging the crisis that you’re facing, and you’re not making statements that could easily prove false. In the meantime, you should formulate a more in-depth statement that’s authentic and true. In Ohio State’s case, this is particularly important, as they’re handling this response toward domestic violence from both an athletic department and a university angle.


As you go through the crisis communications process, it’s always important to reflect on each response. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What steps did we take?
  • What steps should we have taken?
  • How did we react to the situation?

Axia Public Relations has a list of 10 tips that will help you to prepare for any crisis situation your company or organization may encounter. These tips will provide guidance on how to stay ahead of any crisis and not be constantly in reactive mode. You can also download Axia’s complimentary e-book “Managing Public Relations in a Crisis” for a more thorough understanding of what to do when your company faces an emergency of any type.

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Clients love Colleen's knowledge and expertise in athletics. She has more than a decade of experience working in intercollegiate athletics at the NCAA Division I, Division II, and NAIA levels. Colleen graduated from Virginia Wesleyan College with a bachelor's degree in communications and earned her master's in sport management from Florida State University.


Featured photo:  Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Topics: crisis communications

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