In Crisis Management

Controlling and recovering from an incident is quite different than doing the same for a crisis.  Before going into “hair-on-fire crisis mode” take a moment to decide which of these you’re responding to.  Check out our last blog, When is a Crisis NOT a Crisis?, to help you make this decision.  Then, decide whether you’re reacting to an incident or a crisis and take the most appropriate actions. Here are some tips to help you take those next steps: If you’re responding to an incident your next steps should be:


  1. Tactical
  2. Focused on operations
  3. Action-oriented
  4. On a more localized scale
  5. Handled by line managers
  6. Short-term  (i.e. once the incident has passed, you can return to business as usual)

On the other hand, your response to a crisis should be:

  1. Strategic
  2. Both communications and operationally oriented
  3. On a larger scale
  4. Managed by a PR person with the whole-hearted support of high-level executives
  5. Focused on reputation
  6. Grounded in the values of the organization
  7. Long-term (i.e. once the initial crisis has passed, you must continue to rebuild trust)

What both of these have in common is their ability to teach us something.  Multiple incidents show us the weaknesses in our systems.  They teach us where we need to shore up processes, training, quality control and hiring processes.  Crises teach us about flaws in the way we do things; the way we build and transmit our organization’s core values to our employees and the way we’ve strayed from our missions. In both cases, your responses need to avoid these reactions

  • Trivializing the incident
  • Inventing excuses
  • Pointing fingers
  • Demonstrating arrogance
  • Forgetting who’s impacted
  • Exhibiting tone-deafness to the lessons.

The challenge to all of us who protect and defend reputations is speed.  Our stakeholders expect us to respond to a situation as quickly as they find out about it.  In other words, we’re expected to react at the speed of the web.  This encourages instantaneous and reflex reactions that may turn an incident into a crisis (even if it’s not).   What can you do to avoid overreacting or turning a one-time goof into a reputation flaming disaster?  Keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Take several deep breaths before moving forward.
  2. Examine the situation objectively (would the threat seem so significant if it were directed at an organization you weren’t involved with?).
  3. Resist the urge to act first and plan later.
  4. Understand that sometimes you have to let the situation play out before responding.
  5. Communicate with and sooth senior management (especially those pushing for an immediate, knee-jerk response).
  6. Identify those affected and the stake they have in your organization’s future.
  7. Frame key messages first and build all communications around them
  8. Determine what you can and cannot add to the conversation at this time.
  9. Decide if an immediate response will change stakeholders’ impressions for the better.
  10. Wait to respond on social until you have a clear plan of action and message to present.

There’s no doubt that both incidents and crises can have a negative effect on an organization’s brand.  But knowing the difference and acting accordingly are the keys to avoiding long-term, significant bottom-line impact.  It’s all in how you play it.

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