Seven Rules To Remember When a Crisis Strikes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 25, 2011 – 6:42 am

You have a crisis communications plan in place. You’ve assembled a crisis response team, written a comprehensive crisis plan, and role played the most likely crisis scenarios. You’re ready for the unexpected. 

But then the crisis strikes. Your adrenaline surges. Your boss is suddenly irrational, choosing to abandon your well-conceived plan and just “wing it.” 

Print this article and hang it on your bulletin board. When a crisis strikes, take 30 seconds to scan this list to remind yourself – and your freaked-out boss – about the seven larger truths of a crisis. 

1. You Will Suffer In The Short-Term: You will probably suffer when a crisis strikes, at least in the short-term. But crises do not have to affect organizations negatively in the long-term. When handled well, crises can ultimately enhance an organization’s reputation, increase its stakeholder loyalty, and add to its bottom line.

2. You Need to Communicate Immediately: Communicate immediately, if only to acknowledge that something happened, you’re looking into it, and will share more information as soon as you know it. Organizations that communicate immediately have a much greater chance of becoming the media’s main source for information during the crisis. 

3. If You Don’t Talk, Others Will: Reporters need to gather information and get quotes. If they don’t get it from you, they’ll get it from someone else, usually a less-informed third party. That, in turn, will fuel even more negative coverage. 


Tiger Woods

When Tiger Didn’t Talk, A Dozen Women Did. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


4. Saying “No Comment” Is The Same as Saying “We’re Guilty:” When a crisis strikes, many executives want to withhold comment until they have more information. That’s an understandable impulse, but also a wrong one. In the eyes of the public, your refusal to comment is the same as saying, “we don’t care,” “we’re out-of-touch,” or “damn, we’re screwed.” 

5. Your Response Needs to Be About The Victims: British Petroleum’s former CEO, Tony Hayward, failed miserably on this count when he told reporters “I’d like my life back.” His comment was about himself, not the eleven workers who died on his rig or the thousands of newly unemployed locals. Especially in the early hours of a crisis, align your communications – and actions – to human safety and victims’ needs. 


Tony Hayward Photo

Hayward’s Response Wasn’t About The Victims. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


6. Facts Are Not Enough: Even if the facts prove that you did nothing wrong, they’re not enough. During a crisis, facts get obscured by perceptions. A good crisis response should be aligned to the concerns of your organization’s stakeholders and shouldn’t rely solely on a mere recitation of facts. Yes, get the facts out – but do so in the context of your audience’s most pressing concerns. 

7. Get It All Out: It’s human to want to bury the bad parts of a story that haven’t yet gotten out. But trying to bury negative parts of the story often extends the crisis and makes it worse. Information usually gets out anyway, and the lack of forthrightness reinforces suspicions about your integrity. If you think something is likely to get out anyway - and it probably will – it’s better to get it out on your own terms instead of letting a reporter catch you.

Related: The Three Questions Reporters Always Ask

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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