TCEM 18: Six tips for controlling the message in times of crisis | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

TCEM 18: Six tips for controlling the message in times of crisis

May 2, 2018
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Bruce Hennes

In times of crisis, a treatment center executive will first seek to ensure safety of patients and staff, but there’s clearly more to manage. Bruce Hennes of Hennes Communications outlined a number of strategies essential to preserving your reputation when a crisis occurs and the media comes calling.

He pointed out that an accident, a death or even a corporate corruption accusation will be tried in the court of public opinion sooner than it will appear in any court of law. And the media can be the key conveyer of information, perspective and speculation. Executives must be forthcoming with the truth as a defensive strategy to diffuse the negative perceptions.

Such transparency has credibility.

“Tell the truth because the truth always comes out,” Hennes told attendees at the Treatment Center Executive & Marketing Retreat in Hilton Head, S.C. “If you don’t tell it first and tell it all, someone else will.”

In fact, he has a number of guidelines for damage control:

1. Tell the truth.

2. Tell it first.

3. Tell it all.

4. Tell it fast.

5. Realize the media filters information.

6. Realize the fundamental role of the media is not to inform or educate.

Hennes recommended proactive communication with the media to get the story straight and to position the organization as a vindicator rather than a villain. Emphasis what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how you’re going to make things better in the future. Otherwise, media reporters will be inspired to dig for information from other people who might present a negative view.

For example, immediately after a crisis, a number of television or newspaper reporters might call your treatment center requesting interviews. If you stall and wait for legal advice, the opportunity to speak with your own words will quickly pass. When your legal team responds hours, days or weeks later, the perception will most certainly be that your organization is a villain in a defensive mode.

A better option is to offer honest, true information, noting when you don’t have all the facts or are still gathering them. It’s also important to send emails and call your key stakeholders—such as boards of directors, donors, professional partners or community leaders—and offer the truth.

“Vindicators return phone calls,” Hennes said. “They speak for themselves and look people in the eye.”



The Treatment Center Investment & Valuation Retreat brings together owners and senior executives from the addiction treatment and recovery community to meet with key members of the investment and financial community for an exclusive three-day educational, business, and networking event.

December 10-12, 2018 | Scottsdale, AZ