Crisis Communications


When an organization is confronted with an extreme reputational issue, it needs to figure out how to position itself to deal effectively with its stakeholders. Each will require special handling, and outreach will need to be organized, thoughtful and targeted. Each part of the organization (CEO on down) will be involved in the effort, and crisis communications will be a part of the overall response to events and actions taken. Not unlike Reputation Management, an organization needs to fully understand and be prepared in advance to deal with reputational threats that might damage the organization’s standing.

Senior Consultant Mark Hooper has made his mark in global crisis communications. In this article Mark provides a powerful example of, and valuable insight into Crisis Communications and the importance of preparation.

How to Think About Crisis Communications and to Be Prepared

In July 2013, an Asiana Airlines 777 crashed on final approach at San Francisco International Airport. Of the 307 aboard the aircraft, three people perished in the accident. Immediately, the US National Transportation Board sent investigators to the site. The airline had no response on site for almost two days. Asiana did respond in South Korea, their home base, but not in San Francisco. The airline was simply not equipped with personnel in place, or with the proper training to deal with the incident where it had happened. The absence, accompanied by a concentrated media scrum in San Francisco waiting to hear about the investigation, was notable. The clear indication from those gathered in San Francisco was that the airline just wasn’t that concerned.

So, what is there to learn from this? If the airline had put in place proper crisis management practices and had prepared its personnel to handle what is an incredibly important assignment in advance, they could have mitigated the idea that “they didn’t care.” It seems simple, but many organizations are focused on the bottom line or other operational objectives. Preparing the team for a crisis can often wait, or so they think. Here’s the reality, though: The last place you want to exercise your crisis management skills is in the midst of a crisis, especially if you’re in a high-touch customer business.

As noted, crisis communication is a part of the overall crisis management effort. It is essential to be part of the process, because once outreach to stakeholders is needed, the team will rely on strategic thinking and skilled communicators to craft the appropriate responses. So, communications need to be at the center of the overall effort.

Crisis Communications: Three Things to Plan For

There are three things to plan for as it relates to crisis communications:

  • Pre-Crisis Planning and Preparation
  • Managing a Crisis
  • Post-Crisis Analysis

It all seems quite simple and straightforward, but it’s amazing how many organizations fail to do these simple things that will help protect the reputation of the enterprise.

Crisis Communications: Pre-Crisis Planning and Preparation

“Opportunity doesn’t make appointments, you have to be ready when it arrives.”

If you haven’t prepared the team to deal with a crisis when it happens, it is almost guaranteed that you will struggle to take advantage of the opportunity to manage your reputation effectively. It takes organizations years to build up the goodwill and brand equity needed to be, and remain, successful. Why squander that when faced with the inevitable crisis? Using the relative calm of a “normal” time frame to prepare the team for a crisis is exactly the environment you need to strategize and, as the Boy Scouts like to say, “Be Prepared.”

Crisis Communications: Managing a Crisis

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Winston Churchill

Churchill said that before social media became a reality! So, the response today to any crisis needs to be immediate, properly calculated, and road-tested. That’s where prior preparation becomes critical. Managing a crisis with a framework for action that has been tested, with tools tuned and ready to go, with a strategic intent that is properly mapped, will allow you the chance to manage and communicate during the crisis with a calm resolve.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

Crisis Communications: Post Crisis Analysis

“Be humble, be teachable, and always keep learning.” – Anonymous

Once a crisis has been resolved or at least effectively mitigated, taking time out to examine the experiences and process you’ve undertaken, and capturing lessons learned, will create the feedback loop necessary to inform future pre-crisis planning. The normal course of events sometimes precludes taking time to conduct meaningful after-action reviews, but a guarantor of repeating the same mistakes is inattention to gleaning lessons learned. Thus, taking the time to be thorough and thoughtful will serve as an inexpensive insurance policy for the future.

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”

About Crisis Communications expert Mark Hooper

Crisis communications expert Mark Hooper headshot

Mark Hooper, a skilled corporate leader in corporate communications and brand marketing, is a Senior Advisor at The Tantalus Group with considerable experience managing crisis communications and issues management. He was a long-time senior executive for The Boeing Company, with responsibility for Media Relations, Brand Advertising, Public Relations, Labor Relations, Executive Communications and other areas. He’s also a broadcaster, producing and hosting a public affairs program in Asia, Hong Kong 360, which is a talk/interview program covering public affairs and the arts.

Mark holds a B.A. in Communications, and an M.A. in International Politics from Washington State University in the United States. He is currently based in Hong Kong.

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