The Seven Ways To Respond To A Crisis

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 15, 2013 – 6:02 AM

In his classic public speaking book, You Are The Message, Roger Ailes defines five ways to respond to a crisis: attack, defend, counterattack, sell, or ignore. That’s the most succinctly articulated crisis communications playbook I’ve ever seen, and it’s a good one.

To complete his list, I’d add two other strategies: deflect and apologize.

In this post, I’ll offer examples of each of the seven responses you might consider offering when a crisis befalls your organization. 

1. Attack: “I want to make clear that we have always complied with the law and that these charges are a result of having an overzealous prosecutor who desperately wants to become mayor.”

2. Defend: “We knew this decision would be controversial with some people, but we made it because we felt—and still feel—that it was the right thing to do. In order to serve our customers better for the long-term, we had to make a difficult decision in the short-term.”

3. Counterattack: “Of course our competitor is saying negative things about our new product. They haven’t had a successful product launch in five years, so they’re trying to make people forget about their own dismal track record.”

4. Sell: “I knew this decision would be controversial with some voters, but I made it because I know that voters expect me to make the tough choices. So here’s what I’d ask voters: Even if you disagree with me on this issue, consider whether you want someone in office who is willing to make tough decisions on your behalf instead of just doing things the way they’ve always been done. I hope you do, and if so, I’m your man.”

5. Ignore: “[silence]”

6. Deflect: “This is an issue for the Justice Department. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the White House to comment on this matter.”

7. Apologize: “We got this wrong. I want to personally apologize to all of the people who were affected by this issue, and I want them to know that we are taking immediate steps to make sure this never happens again.”

Like this post? Learn more about crisis communications in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

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Comments (4)

  1. By Rodger Johnson:

    You forgot the last response to a crisis ‘they’ never tell you — run like hell. Okay, done being glib.

    These are all very good tips. But which is the best approach? I would submit that depending on the extent of damage control one must do, a combination of these would address the issue.

  2. By Doug Oliver:

    Deciding on which to use is the key, Rodger, and this is why a company should rely on a professional’s advice. I want a specialist to do the operation, an engineer to design the wing, a mechanic to fix my car – and I recommend the CEO use communication resources to handle communication strategy. Seems simple enough.
    Great list, Brad.

  3. By Brad Phillips:

    Doug and Rodger –

    Great feedback. I started to put guidelines about when to use each of the seven approaches in this article, but abandoned that approach when it became clear that the real answer about when to use each is, “It depends.” Each crisis has its own set of circumstances, so a savvy communications professional would have to analyze the pros and cons of each before acting.

    Generally speaking, I’d say that counterattacking is probably the riskiest of the bunch.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. By John:

    Very nice list, Brad. I have seen a lot of folks get in trouble with the “Ignore” tactic where it simply made the media mad and sometimes even hostile.

    I would use great caution when trying to ignore a crisis.

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