When Is a Crisis a Crisis?

We hear it often – “Not sure if this is a true crisis or just a glitch?

Ask yourself one simple question: Is this going to impact my brand in any way? If the answer is yes, you are facing a crisis and must respond swiftly and strategically.

Crisis is the new normal. In a world with 3.5 billion Internet users, reputations can be destroyed in a nanosecond. The speed of information-sharing puts everything at stake.

We define a crisis as an unexpected, unplanned event that threatens the reputation of your brand, company or organization. You don’t have to be a big name or have a headline-making event. If the event has the potential to negatively impact any of your stakeholders and weaken their trust in your business, you’re in a crisis communication scenario.

You can’t undo a crisis. But you can manage the outcome and, if managed well, the life-cycle of a crisis can be significantly shortened. You must tell the story first – it is yours to tell. If you don’t get ahead of the story, someone else is going to write the headline and that’s when we see truth morph into assumptions, even lies.

So how do you manage a crisis? Each situation is unique. At GillespieHall we use a core framework, adjusted for each scenario:

  • Have a crisis plan: Every organization must have a current crisis plan. Creating a communication plan after something goes wrong is like trying to buy car insurance after the collision. GillespieHall can help you build a communication plan focused on your business, risks and audience.
  • Get ahead of the story: When a crisis hits, acknowledge the issue quickly and truthfully; it is important your stakeholders and public see you are acutely aware of every aspect of the crisis. Provide regular updates to the stakeholders and public.
  • Express empathy: A lack of concern for others will only exacerbate the crisis. Arrogance is not attractive when responding to a crisis, especially if there are victims. This is where you show the human side of your organization. The mindset you bring to a crisis has a big impact on your organization’s ability to recover. An effective response is built around empathy toward others. And that takes discipline.
  • Share your core values: Reinforce long-term stakeholder trust. Reaffirm your values. Remind your stakeholders and public what you/your organization genuinely cares about and what truly matters to you.
  • Take meaningful action: Make clear and definitive moves to address the cause of the crisis and outline steps you will take to minimize the chance of this happening again. Be confident and reassuring, but not defensive. Don’t forget – it’s not about you; it’s about your stakeholders. This is the start of the “recovery phase.”
  • Commit to change: Prove that your organization cares through committed, ongoing action. It’s OK if this evolves as the situation unfolds, as long as stakeholders see that you’re taking concrete steps to mitigate risk and deepen trust.
  • What’s next? Share your ongoing recovery plan with your stakeholders and the public.

 

So, managing a crisis means: strategically controlling the damage by getting ahead of the story and telling the truth; shaping the key messages and delivering them to stakeholders and the public in real time; showing empathy and commitment to tangible change; and mitigating all risk that the crisis could reoccur.

It’s called crisis management for a reason.

Bridget Paverd is a public relation professional and founding partner at GillespieHall. The firm is retained by global companies to manage their reputation and relevance. A recognized crisis communication specialist, Paverd teaches crisis media management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Paverd first expressed her desire to become a PR entrepreneur at age 10 when she successfully created a word-of-mouth campaign at her school to offer students alternatives to gym classes. She has been influencing minds and opinions ever since.

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