Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:06 AM

Do "gag orders" work?

The recent gag order imposed on employees of the US Environmental Protection Agency reminds us of the importance of preparing an organization’s employees – not just its executives – for when the press comes knocking at the door. We’re fond of reminding company managers that they must have a communications plan in hand. Opportunities will arise when outsiders demand answers – reporters, shareholders, government investigators, customers, to name a few. Will your employees know what to do and what not to do?

When your organization comes under public scrutiny, reporters won't just call you or your communications chief -- they will call your employees. Reporters look for that tidbit of information they don't expect to get from an official spokesperson. And who better to dish it up than an employee not used to talking with the press?

Your organization should have a stated policy about what employees should do in the event a reporter contacts them. An effective way to prepare employees for today’s communications challenges is to include them in the strategic communications plan. Simple rules for managers to remember when stakeholders are at the gate:

1) Information is key: employees must be kept in the loop. Uncertainty can threaten morale and prompt rumors.
2) Display management confidence: employees want to see that the bosses have a plan -- and are following it.
3) Have an outcome: make sure everyone sees – and understands - the end game.

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