Category Archives: Crisis management

Stormy Daniels Proves NDA’s Don’t Work

Watching the Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes reminded me of why Non-Disclosure Agreements or NDAs are often a very bad idea. That’s because an NDA is an attempt to solve a communications problem with a legal solution.

I frequently come across NDAs in my issues management practice and they seldom work to the benefit of my clients. In fact, in three major cases, they hindered my clients from telling their side of the story while details were “leaked” to the media. In one situation, one-sided information was slowly revealed over many weeks as the story gained traction.

Lawyers can threaten court action but no financial settlement will repair the reputational damage done when the other side controls the narrative. I’m not a lawyer but I often wonder why there isn’t a “right to respond” written into NDAs or a clause to make it void if certain details are released. In the cases I’ve worked on, the side trying to “do the right thing” and respect the NDA has taken the greater hit.

One of the reasons NDAs fail is that they try to do too much. Some prohibit each side from even acknowledging their existence. This is not a good communications strategy. And, in a WikiLeaks world, even the deepest of secrets are being fed to journalists.

Before agreeing to an NDA, both sides should consider the public interest and the likelihood that certain information could become public regardless of the agreement. Both sides might agree on a joint public statement which answered any obvious questions. If the issue is of public concern, using a legal document to hide information only heightens the public interest. A better approach would be to release as much information as possible and then explain why other information cannot be released.

And if one side does decide to pursue legal action when an NDA is breached it will mean months, if not years, of court proceedings that will only add further harm to a damaged reputation.


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Communicating in a Crisis

I’ve been asked to teach a one-day workshop at a local university this fall on Communicating in a Crisis so I’ve been spending hours reviewing my notes and materials from the many high profile events that I’ve worked on over the years. I’ve written in the past about the three things the public expects to hear in a crisis. They are; I’m sorry, I’ve fixed it, it’s never going to happen again. Those refer specifically to the event that has caused the crisis.

Here are three more essential actions that every organization needs to do when a crisis presents itself;

1. Act quickly but not impulsively. The first things you do and say in a crisis will set the tone for everything that follows. The longer you delay in responding, the more you allow someone else to set the agenda. Make sure, however, that your messages are sound. And don’t speculate.

2. Remember internal as well as external audiences. Employees can be your advocates or your enemies in a crisis. Keep them in the loop as much as you can. Also, if you already have a solid reputation among your stakeholders, be prepared to draw on your advocate army to help preserve that reputation.

3. Make every decision defensible. At some point the crisis will be over and you may be judged more on how you handled things than on what really happened. As chaotic and confusing as things may be when the crisis strikes, things will eventually calm down and the rebuilding of your reputation will begin. There may also be regulatory or customer fallout to deal with and decisions made during the crisis will be scrutinized.

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Filed under Communication, Crisis management, Messaging