Crises Management in the Modern World

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Keep Calm Smaller

 As I was pondering blog topics this morning, I stumbled upon this visual of axiom ‘Keep Calm…It’s Just The Media.’ It seemed perfect advice for those responding to the most recent current events that have taken shape in the media. From the Boston bombings to Paula Deen’s gaffes and the present day tragedy at SFO with Asiana Airlines, our world has been bombarded by media coverage of crises. And, thanks to online news sources such as Twitter (for those of you debating, yes, Twitter is a powerful news source — wire services evolved!), the media have captured and reported every nanosecond of each incident. In this digital age, that may result positively and, conversely, it can also cause very significant challenges for all involved. Now more than ever, there is truly such a thing as ‘bad press!’

 In the case of Paula Deen, her downfall was her inability to tell the truth to the Today Show’s Matt Lauer despite her under-oath, courtroom testimony that had been recorded and re-broadcast on every social and traditional channel in existence. Even after initial sparks flew from the original opportunity to share her story, her lack of both honesty and brevity created a situation that, similar to a wildfire, swept swiftly from spark to flame and became out of control in seconds. During crises, rarely are people or companies afforded the opportunity to correct misinformation and restate key messages according to their own agenda. However, in her ‘second chance’ interview, rather than address the most relevant facts, Deen peppered her attempt with unrelated idioms, unnecessary anecdotes and long, drawn –out, irrelevant micro stories. Subsequently, she crippled her credibility and any chance for damage control. Nearly immediately, and to her own disbelief, many major brands terminated their relationships with her. Whether these decisions were right or wrong is not the issue. The issue is that given her particular situation, Deen should’ve addressed key publics—her fans, viewers, sponsors, partners, media, etc.—calmly, truthfully, succinctly, and in a timely manner. Instead, she enabled the media to write her story in their words, and by the time she tried to manage the situation it was too late. Enough said. It will be interesting to watch what happens next in this unfolding drama. Perhaps she’ll sit tight till the story settles down, let some time pass, and ease back into her routines. That’d be my recommendation.

While Paula Deen’s situation ended negatively, I strongly believe, and have personally experienced several high-profile corporate crises in which proper management of such situations have resulted much more favorably.  And, in fact, I believe we’ve all recently witnessed one of the most professional, successfully-handled crises in years: the Asiana Airline crash at the San Francisco International Airport. I was not involved in this incident, rather simply observed the process in which the news was reported. I cannot recall having seen such a well-run communication effort for any similar international crisis. The calm, collected manner in which the crisis team addressed media and key publics was exceptional. Their success lain in the team’s ability to quickly gather and report the most relevant facts as they knew them; deliver a cohesive message across various government agencies in authoritative, authentic voices; and present and execute a timeline plan of action so key publics would know what and when to expect information and next steps. As a result, the public response was empathic and well informed. Given the gravity of the situation, if not handled in such an effective way, the result could’ve been extremely detrimental to all involved whether through misinformation, speculation or limited access to salient details. In this case, it was clear the crisis team was composed and provided the media exactly what they needed to report consistent, factual information. It is the first time I believe that I have ever seen consistent coverage of a tragic event across a wide range of media outlets. Net, net: it was a successfully executed communication effort that undoubtedly required timely preparation and regularly scheduled rehearsals.

So what can communications pros learn from these two divergent examples?  I capture several recommendations below. Most important, start with always having a crisis plan in place; anticipate and prepare; and practice quarterly—just in case. You never know when a situation may occur that requires immediate attention.

Top Tips for Crises and Reputation Management:

Every company should have a crisis plan in place

  1. Always tell the truth: state only the facts you know are true
  2. Less is more: limit discussion to the most critical details that impact key publics
  3. Create a plan of action with timeline: tell the audience what and when to expect information; stick to your timeline. The audience is waiting and listening.
  4. Monitor social channels and listen to public response

  5. Ensure consistent, clear messages are communicated to multiple channels
  6. Prepare for tough questions and answers
  7. Rehearse
  8. Be consistent and authentic
  9. Repeat, repeat, repeat!

Have you been involved in a major crisis or reputation management situation? What steps did you take? Share your story with me on @marysrockman or via MSR’s handle @MSR_PR.

*The image above was seen on