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How I Communicate It: Delicate Crisis Communication

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Credit: istockphoto.com/DragonImages

Editor’s Note: Kate Gardiner is the CEO and founder of Grey Horse, a communications agency based in New York City. Grey Horse is a full-service firm that handles a wide range of practice areas, such as conferences and events, corporate communications and crisis communications, to name a few. She was enlisted by publications like Al Jazeera and Newsweek to modernize editorial and distribution strategies in the digital age. Her work led her to being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Here, Kate Gardiner shares how she works with clients who believe they have been subjected to harassment.

As CEO and founder of Grey Horse, my team and I provide a wide range of services to our clients. I like working on situations that are complicated, that require nuance and are challenging. Before opening my agency, I was a traditional journalist and I worked in the world of fast-paced breaking news. One of the areas we specialize in is creating a communications strategy for people, mostly women, who believe they have been the victims of a sexually related situation, with the vast majority feeling like they have been the victims of crime.

When a person is ready to announce a serious sexual allegation, most of the time they seek communication support because the allegation they are making typically involves an incredibly painful and volatile situation. My background and experience in crisis communications lends itself to help these people in their situations.

The process typically begins with an attorney bringing a client to me. We sign an NDA, and we review all sorts of documents, like a complaint if there is one. We review content that might end up in the public eye. We could review potential evidence. Then, we do a deep dive on our potential client and make sure we understand where they are coming from. We want to be able to respond accurately and quickly to the situation.

“When a person is ready to announce a serious sexual allegation, most of the time they seek communication support because the allegation they are making typically involves an incredibly painful and volatile situation.” —Kate Gardiner, CEO and founder of Grey Horse

I try to learn as much as I can about my client and what their personality is like. Everybody reacts to these stressful situations differently, and that dictates the way that you work with the individual. In sexually related issues, it takes a lot of courage for the person who was offended to come forward. I enjoy being in service to an individual in that situation.

I know what outlets will be receptive to relevant stories, and I also know how to tell my clients if their eyes are a bit bigger than their narrative. That can be really delicate, because everyone thinks their story is really unique.

My approach to speaking and communicating with a client depends on their demeanor. With some people, I take a more professional tone, and others need a more sympathetic ear from me. It really depends on the severity of their accusation. I have gotten better at it with practice. You are talking to somebody repeatedly about the worst day of their life. And nothing about that is fun.

I let our clients know that our plan and strategy may change and may need to be adjusted. I try very hard in the beginning to acknowledge that this may be where we started, and this may be where we want to go, but it may change and we may not end up there by any stretch of the imagination. And we may not be able to fix that. Clients who can understand that do better.

—As told to Michael Tomko

Michael Tomko

Michael Tomko is a freelance writer.

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