UNDProfessional communicators know that, sometimes, proactive crisis communications results in no crisis at all, or at least no business disruption when the crisis hits.

I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!).  In the Summer 2009 edition of Notre Dame Magazine there was avery thoughtful article titled, “Weather Report: How ND is faring in the financial storm.” 

ND is a University with a very large endowment ($5.4 billion plus) and commitment to student financial aid ($83 million next year).  It relies heavily on investment income.

What struck me was how administrators not only averted lay-offs and drastic cutbacks when endowment revenue dropped, but their sincere commitment to open and honest dialogue with the University community every step of the way.

Yes, they managed their assets conservatively, diversified appropriately and in a timely way and had large reserves for difficult times.  That’s not the real story, at least to me.

ND higher-ups knew their faculty and staff were just as concerned about what impact the volatile economy might have on their ability to provide for their families, to make mortgage and car payments.

So, what did they do?  They thought ahead, treated people like adults, demonstrated understanding and compassion and communicated aggressively sharing real information, not just spin and good news.

“They embarked on a series of town-hall style departmental meetings in which they laid out the University’s fiscal strengths and vulnerabilities in full-disclosure mode … The goal was to calm fears. The risk was to heighten apprehensions,” the article shared.

The V.P. of Finance at ND, “… believes internal institutional communication is crucial in a time of crisis.”

ND’s executive VP added that, “We wanted everyone on campus to know what our plans and contingencies are.”

ND’s senior team demonstrated leadership, proactive decision-making and commitment to their work force at a very volatile, confusing and anxious time.  They worked to retain the trust and confidence of those who rely on them to make good decisions.

So far, it appears that fears have been calmed, trust retained, and apprehensions managed.  The corporate reputation is intact and, perhaps, enhanced.  Key relationships have been maintained, if not strengthened.

Sounds to me a lot like a very successful proactive crisis communications exercise.

Post by Nick Vehr (ND ’81) – 7.18.09

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