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Five Tips for Managing a Crisis

August 22, 2012

The thing about a ‘crisis’ is that it can mean different things to different people. It’s a minor crisis when I run out of coffee at home.

However it comes, a corporate crisis generally becomes the PR person’s problem. It doesn’t matter who or what caused it, it’s your job to deal with it.

Fortunately, a lot of the smaller-scale crises I’ve dealt with in my time never make it into the public arena. The holding statement never comes out of the top right hand drawer – but the CEO sleeps a bit better at night knowing it’s there.

Late last year I worked on a nursing home fire that sadly killed 11 people; that was a crisis of a different order. From the moment I arrived on the ground to a maelstrom of ambulances and fire engines, it took all of my experience and presence of mind to provide advice to our team and our client.

There is no secret formula for crisis management, but the principles I invoked for the fire were the same that I apply to any other issue. Whether it’s a spokesperson going rogue or a major mail-house meltdown, it is important to:

  1. Keep calm. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s actually the most important thing. Whoever the crisis affects tends to get whipped up by emotion and panic. You need to distance yourself from their emotional register if you want to give good advice.
  2. Communicate early and often. This doesn’t always mean talking to media; it means communicating with the people who are affected by the crisis. Be upfront; try to anticipate their questions or concerns, then answer them. And do it as soon as you have the facts – don’t wait til it’s leaked.
  3. Prioritise your stakeholders. The media is generally not your most important stakeholder – it’s more likely customers, clients or employees. Focus on solving the problem for them before you start writing your media statement or worrying about journalists stalking you.
  4. Be clear on approval processes. Assume that every man and his dog wants to see your media statement, and work back from there. Ideally, you would have this process set out somewhere in a document, but in reality … probably not. Try and get agreement in writing: an email saying ‘X, Y and Z will need to approve all materials’.
  5. Choose your spokesperson carefully. A CEO may not always be the best spokesperson; consider who knows the detail, has media training and comes across well. It can actually backfire if you put up a spokesperson who is remote from the detail, as they can get tripped up in interview.

 

Most of all, keep some perspective. Take a step back, breathe deeply and think about that big glass of red wine you’re going to be having at the end of the day.

 

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2 Comments
  1. My tip would be “practise”. Set aside a couple of hours at senior executive level, get someone to draft a scenario that no-one knows until the session starts (the PR professional would be a perfect candidate for this task), and see what it is like operating under the stress of a disaster scenario. I guarantee that you will uncover some interesting insights.

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