5 Tips for Planning to Survive a Crisis

You’ve all heard the old adage, fail to plan and you plan to fail. The worst time to develop your crisis communications plan is when a news crew is parked out front of your home or business at 7 a.m.

Many business owners and executives do not plan for a crisis. Whether it’s that they don’t think their business is at risk or they simply don’t want to spend the time or money, many put the subject on the back burner. But what happens when a crisis hits? Who’s the spokesperson? What should they say?

There are many examples of poor responses to crisis situations, the most recent being a response from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. In fact, CNN Money featured a headline that read, “United Airlines shows how to make a PR crisis a total disaster.”

After a violent confrontation on a United Airlines flight and graphic video that captured the incident, the CEO made an initial statement simply apologizing for “having to re-accommodate … customers.” The video featured a customer being forcibly removed from his seat and dragged down the aisle of an overbooked aircraft.

Given the optics of the situation flooding social media and the major news networks, his response should have been more apologetic and thoughtful.

He later exacerbated the situation by sending a letter, that went public, to United employees describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.” He also said that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” Although it appears as though his statements were true, it doesn’t change the perception of the situation. For someone who was named U.S. Communicator of the Year by the trade publication PRWeek, he and his team should have been better prepared.

So, how do you avoid taking a crisis communications situation from bad to worse?

Follow these five steps to ensure your next situation doesn’t go from crisis to catastrophe.

  • Develop a plan, now. It’s simply too late once a crisis hits. I know we all want to assume that it “won’t happen to me,” but what if it does? You need to be prepared by planning ahead.
  • Assign a spokesperson. Better yet, assign three. You should have a primary, secondary and tertiary spokesperson, because you never know if a crisis will hit while your key spokesperson is on vacation. However, the more serious the crisis, the more important it is for you to have the president or CEO represent the organization. This is not the time to send out the “company spokesperson.”
  • Tell it early. When a crisis hits, don’t wait for the news media, or worse yet, social media to create the narrative for you. Take control by coming out immediately with your statement.
  • Tell it all. There is no use in skipping key elements or details to the story. It’s better to get the good, the bad and the ugly out now, so that the story can enter the news cycle as quickly as it will leave it. If additional details keep emerging, it only lengthens the interest and thus the bad press.
  • Tell the truth. Forget the half-truths or lies. Just don’t do it. Get it all out there in the most articulate, well thought out and concise way possible.

Crises happen. The key is to survive them. And the only way to do it is to have a plan. I also recommend hiring a professional. When you or your company are the focus of the crisis, it’s important to have the ability to see the forest through the trees. Outside consultation can be priceless in a less-than-desirable situation.

Remember what happens when you fail to plan, and plan to survive your crisis instead.


Originally published in Sacramento Business Journal  – June 29, 2017, 2:42pm PDT
© 2017 American City Business Journals

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