4 tips to prepare for and mitigate a crisis

Disaster-response planning requires just that—planning. Here are steps to take in advance of any PR calamity, as well as tactics to execute once you’re knee-deep, or neck-deep, in hot water.


These days, every company is on the brink of a crisis.

It could come in the form of a manufacturing mistake, security breach, contaminated food item, rogue employee or—as we’ve seen in the news more frequently in recent months—an executive-level misdeed.

No two crises are the same, and most times you would need psychic leanings to see one coming. However, once it strikes, the repercussions can be swift. In the blink of an eye, crises have been known to ruin reputations, destabilize businesses, alienate customers and employees, and kill profits.

The adage that everything fades with time doesn’t apply to companies hit with a crisis. Ignoring the event and hiding under your desk will inevitably result in the situation turning into unabated disaster. Corporate leaders must be prepared with a mitigation plan that contains both obvious and less-than-obvious measures.

With crisis-laden 2017 as a backdrop, here are four steps companies should take before and during a crisis.

1. Run it like a campaign.

Crisis mitigation shouldn’t be driven by ad-hoc decisions. You are in a battle to win back the hearts and minds of your client’s consumers, which calls for a war-room mentality. Every war room needs a strong point person, so before all else, appoint someone to this crucial role and get them started on managing your crisis “campaign.”

Pick a single authority within your company—or even a respected communications or business consultant—who is empowered to make decisions and remain in constant contact with your executives. That individual will lead a team responsible for self-research, disseminating communications, consumer opinions, earned and paid media, and customer service.

2. Prioritize employee, not customer, communications.

Companies tend to focus first and foremost on their customers when it comes to crisis response. They are, of course, an influential group, but are arguably second in line behind your employees, who are your biggest advocates and stakeholders. Employees are on the front lines, and their interactions with customers are more powerful, honest and influential than any ad or tweet.

Just like customers learning about your crisis, employees are going to wonder what’s going on and how to respond. Your master plan should call for near-immediate communications to your employees either through an all-hands-on-deck meeting or digital correspondence.

Provide enough details about the situation to allay their fears and make them feel “in the know.” Find ways to get them to rally behind the brand, whether it’s through social media channels or informal conversations with friends.

Although it’s fine to offer them key messages, stop short of giving them specific talking points. The latter could undermine their authenticity and make them feel exploited, which is the opposite of what you’re going for.

3. Understand where you are, so you know when you’re back.

If you’re not tracking where you are as you move through a crisis by analyzing message impact and how consumers are responding, there is no way for you to gauge whether you’re at the beginning, middle or end.

Visualize the crisis as a “U,” and your goal is to get back to the top of the other side of the “U.” The “U” also gives you the three common stages to execute messaging against—active management, recovery and maintenance.

If possible, assign your war room leader the job of benchmarking key brand attributes and consumer perceptions at least twice a year pre-crisis. This way you’ll have an up-to-date read on your company when crisis hits, as well as a point to measure against as you rebound.

As the onset of the crisis, identify the key metrics to monitor and ensure they’re specific to the situation, rather than broad attributes such as social sentiment and trust.

For example, say your CEO speaks out about a charged social issue such as LGBT rights, and it causes an uproar. Your key crisis metrics might be favorability, purchase intent and likelihood of a boycott. The more germane they are to the crisis, the better.

4.Check your reservoir of goodwill.

Once you’ve determined the roots of the perceived public betrayal, assess the impact and uncover the reservoirs of goodwill that your company still retains.

What equities do you still have? In what areas is your company still credible? What reasons can you cite that consumers should still believe in your brand and buy your products?

Knowing the answers to these important questions can help you communicate about the damaged areas and help you restore your brand.

Use this background to develop a singular, credible message and the supporting facts. At the same time, critically assess other messaging campaigns and halt any that run contrary to your crisis platform or that might derail your crisis mitigation efforts.

Although you still have to sell your goods and services, it’s paramount that you not come across as tone deaf or blind to the larger crisis.

A crisis can strike any company, anywhere, at any time, and advanced preparation can be the difference between all hell breaking loose and a controlled, well-managed flow of events.

Mitch Markel is principal of Benenson Strategy Group. A version of this post first ran on MediaPost.

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