For businesses or organizations facing a crisis, there are just two outcomes – success or failure. And the failures seem to take on a life of their own, supported by insatiable conversation, usually involving all the wrong people. We’ve seen these communications failures time and time again: Sports franchises. Investment firms. Auto, food and CPG manufacturers. Restaurant chains. Most often, crises are born of known risks. Matters only worsen if the situation is mishandled.

A crisis occurs as a specific incident within a defined amount of time or duration. A crisis often comes as a surprise, arrives suddenly and involves a tremendous amount of internal and external scrutiny.

Preventing a Crisis

Most crises emerge from known risks and because of this, identified risks and the factors influencing their potential should be closely monitored and scrutinized in an ongoing manner. From an operational perspective, steps should be taken and systems should be designed to reduce or eliminate the potential for any risk to occur and develop into crisis.

These reductions to risk are made possible by maintaining two-way channels of communication with all employees in an environment conducive to safety and error reporting, affording continual and early information on emerging risk and time for maintenance and testing of your crisis response plan.

Triaging a Crisis

Negative information generated about any organization will cause harm; whether temporary or with lasting impacts is determined by the steps taken to mitigate the crisis. Actions taken within the first 24 hours of a crisis will set the stage for the duration of the response. And if you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you and they’ll likely be those most critical of the situation or event that caused the crisis.

Knowing what to do in a crisis means first identifying whether you’re really having one. In our age of immediate digital communication, tempers can flare and emotions can build rapidly. Active audiences can grow at digital speeds. A rising social media issue may not necessitate a crisis-level response, but social media issues left unresolved amid building audiences can evolve into crisis.

Understanding the level of crisis is essential to determining a response.

Because a crisis can threaten public safety, bring financial loss and cause reputational damage, it is essential to answer critical questions early:

  • Is this issue routine?
  • Is this a real issue or a risk?
  • Is this really a crisis, or is it a normal/everyday issue we face, which surfaces now and then?
  • Is this a small issue that if left alone could become a major crisis?
  • Is the scale confined to a local or small geographical area? Or could this issue spread, becoming an issue of regional or national significance?
  • Who else is involved in this?
  • Has someone verified what’s happening?
  • What are the legal and public safety implications?
  • What caused this? Are we to blame? Is it reasonable that we will be blamed?
  • Can we handle this alone, internally? Or is this bigger than our normal capacity to respond?
  • Who should I inform? What level of resources will be required to manage it?
  • What’s the next step?

This example flow-chart captures the essence of these questions and can be used to identify a crisis and inform a response. In this example, the industry is highly visible and the potential for trouble is constant.





This is part of a special blog series, Communicating in Crisis. Find tools, information and resources to better understand crisis.

For an expertly assembled plan, contact Ryan.

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