01:29 AM

Every crisis is an opportunity: fact or fiction?


Does every crisis present an organization with a silver lining and an opportunity? Or is this another hackneyed idea? Here are three tips to increase your chances of drawing a positive outcome when a crisis hits.

A crisis can do irreparable damage to an organization, but at the same time, it also presents an ideal time to review and renew current processes. It puts an organization into conflict: on one hand, there is an urge to return to the status quo as soon as possible, while also creating a situation in which relevant aspects are being evaluated, revealing options to improve. For a crisis to have a silver lining, certain things need to occur.

Neutralize the negative impact

When a crisis hits, your first action should be to blunt its negative edge, by listening and responding to any affected parties in an emotionally intelligent manner.

Jonathan Bernstein, president of the consulting firm Bernstein Crisis Management, suggests “what [an organization] should do when there’s [an injury] associated with one of his company’s products is respond, first and foremost, with compassion, and then with words that express competence and confidence".

Alton Towers, a British theme park, provided a commendable example of this through its handling of a crisis in July 2015. After two women were injured on one of their rollercoasters, the organization proactively communicated to the press, offering any kind of assistance the women or their families needed. By being delicate and considerate towards the victims, they minimized the negative backlash in the media about Alton Towers.

While Alton Towers’ strategy limited the negative effect on the organization, it is also possible for organizations to emerge in better shape after a crisis, than before it began. In 2014, after the sportswear company Under Armour had publicly exhibited its high-performance speedskating suits, the company fell into a global PR crisis when the US team wearing the suits at Sochi Winter Olympics started losing races. Fingers were pointed towards Under Armour’s suits, and the Wall Street Journal headlined a story titled “Under Armour Suits May Be a Factor in U.S. Speedskating's Struggles." The company’s response, which included “responding quickly, frequently reiterating the company's mission statement, putting top executives in the media and making sure not to blame the athletes”, not only alleviated the crisis, it actually boosted the brand’s confidence. The company’s stock which initially dipped 2.4%, quickly rebounded and rose, and Under Armour resigned the US speedskating team to its brand for another 8 years.

The importance of timing and taking the lead

A strong crisis communication strategy is not enough to ensure your organization can escape a crisis unscathed.

Other factors including company culture, stakeholder interest, and the attitude of the board are important. Are all of the organization’s representatives on the same page? When solving the crisis, are we taking the victims and stakeholders into account? Is the CEO seen as the cause of the problem and is there pressure for them to step down? Communicating about solutions and changes will only help if these actually take place.

While not every crisis may lead to a positive outcome, stopping the bleeding can certainly feel like a success. Some other tips to ensure this include:

  • Intervene as quickly as possible to prevent an incident from developing into a crisis. An incident is easier to control and steer towards a positive outcome than a full-blown crisis. The longer you wait before addressing the issue, the larger the sacrifices and concessions will be that you need to undertake to solve the crisis. Typically, you'd want to release a holding statement as soon as you can – here's a template you can use.

  • Take a step back, broaden your view, and answer the following questions: how will you look back at this crisis in twelve months' time? What went well, what went wrong? By taking a few moments to think about these questions, you can still influence the answers before it is too late.

  • Communicate in clear and precise terms, both internally and externally, that you take this crisis seriously. Then set out the steps you will undertake to solve the situation. The message that should be prominent, is ‘We are addressing the problem’.


Well prepared for a crisis

While these tips will help to increase the chances of steering a crisis towards a positive outcome, it is far more important to be prepared for a crisis. Though preparation won’t make you bulletproof, there are things you can arrange in advance to ensure you won’t be blown away when the crisis does happen. The most important tasks and best practices can be found in our Public Relations guide to Crisis Communication, which will help you manage your internal and external communication in these circumstances. 

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