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15 Timeless Principles of Crisis Management

In my 35 years as a communications professional, I have learned many lessons. Among the most important are those I have learned in the past several years as a crisis management consultant. We’ve seen so many business crises exacerbated by poor communications recently, it is helpful to keep these fundamental principles top of mind when facing a crisis. Effective crisis management requires sponsorship and support from the board of directors on down. Even the best crisis plan will fail without executive support.

  1. Failing to plan FOR a crisis is planning to fail IN a crisis. In other words, you can prepare and prevent, or repair and repent. The latter is considerably more expensive—both in dollars and reputation— than the former.
  2. The biggest obstacle to effective crisis preparedness is management DENIAL.
  3. Every organization needs a “crisis culture”— one of nonstop readiness for the unexpected and where everyone—EVERYONE— knows their role in a crisis.
  4. The window of opportunity to manage the narrative of your crisis is short-lived. If you don’t communicate now, someone else will, and it will not be the story you want told.
  5.  Don’t wait until you have all the facts to communicate to stakeholders. Share what you can confirm, as soon as possible. Delay runs the risk of losing control of the narrative and the trust of your stakeholders.
  6. Fight misinformation with facts.
  7. But…don’t pick a fight with people who buy bandwidth by the petabyte.
  8. Risks and vulnerabilities change over time. In fact,  companies should constantly be scanning the environment to identify new or evolving risks so that they can prepare to prevent them from harming the enterprise.
  9. There is no longer “traditional” media and “social” media, just media. What we think of as traditional or mainstream media now all have a strong multi-media presence on social platforms.
  10. The sterling reputation that took years to build can be badly tarnished in the blink of an eye when a crisis is not responded to quickly with empathy, honesty and transparency.
  11. Choose spokespersons carefully. Talking to 500 people in an audience can be markedly easier than talking to one aggressive reporter on camera. Commit to regular media training and to cultivating the ability to speak with compassion, confidence and competence.
  12. There is no such thing as “off the record.” Even in private. These days, technology allows anyone to record anything, anywhere, anytime. And share it with the world. Exercise caution.
  13. Although it may be painful, it is imperative to conduct a post-crisis review of the response. Understand what worked well and keep doing it. Examine what did not work as intended and fix it.
  14. Every crisis is an opportunity to improve for next time. And there will be a next time.
  15. And finally, don’t hesitate to call for help. In fact, make sure you have experienced crisis communications consultants on speed-dial.
Deb Hileman, SCMP

Deb Hileman, SCMP

President and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management