Crisis Communications: The Ultimate Guide

Crisis is a big word. 

Merriam-Webster’s definition of crisis states, “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.” This definition might evoke memories of MBA program crisis case studies, such as the Tylenol crisis of 1982, the BP oil spill in 2010, or the 2013 Wells Fargo sales fraud that resulted in 3.5M+ fake accounts. 

FREE Guide: Crisis Communications - Staying Cool When the Heat is On

When it comes to truly nefarious actions, system-wide evidence of abuse, fraud or exploitation, potential shareholder issues with a public company, etc., a leadership team has to know - it is time to call in a specialty firm that focuses exclusively on crisis management and image rehabilitation. Crises like those mentioned above move entire markets, and any company in one of those scenarios will want to contract with (and pay for) elite crisis management teams. And, they should do it happily. 

But what about everyone else? The 100s of 1000s of companies aiming to bring something new to the market.  It would be naive to expect these companies won’t also have to face tough decisions - decisions that inevitably end up being managed in the public eye. 

What if we have a major product issue? 

What if we have layoffs? 

What if our CEO gets fired? 

What if one of our executives gets into a public spat with another company or demeans a competitor? 

While the examples above may not rise to the level of national crises, they can damage a company’s future regardless of the media interest in the topic. The truth is that pre-public, venture-backed companies have to assume trouble is coming, now or later. And there is no way of predicting what that trouble will be. 

So, who handles those issues

Who helps a company’s executive team learn how to deal with difficult, uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situations that are likely to attract public attention? 

Your communications and PR partner better be able to. 

If your proposed partner can’t give you strategic guidance and tactical support when something potentially damaging happens, they’re only doing 50% of their job. As such, understanding their ability to manage tough, challenging situations is critically important. 

Here’s a starter question you could add to your communications agency list, “can you partner with us to create a plan that introduces an unforeseen challenge or problem, help our team to mitigate public risk, work with us to define clear messages for each stakeholder audience, and manage the external execution of the plan with our marketing/PR team?”

And, “have you done it before?”

The answers should carry as much, if not more, weight than who they know at your favorite national daily, or how many times they’ve launched a new kind of widget or even the type of creative ideas they bring to the table. 

Protecting your brand is communications job #1. Make sure your chosen team can be there with you through thick and thin. 

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