Module 6: Crisis management
For most organizations, a crisis
is a barrage of urgent, unexpected unpleasant events that
allows no time to think, organize, or plan appropriate
actions. Unfortunately most organizations begin to plan
for crisis after the crisis hits. This is a mistake.
There are three best ways to approach crisis
1) Avoid a crisis in the first place (an ounce of
prevention is worth a ton of cure);
2) Quickly address and resolve crisis issues before
3) Seek possible ways to turn your crisis into an
It was in Los Angeles, California, in the middle
of a drought, when a huge water pipe burst right in
the middle of one of the busiest streets, the Ventura
Blvd, causing the road to split apart. Water flooded
the street and sidewalks, closing all the businesses.
The area was blocked off, so no customers could get
to any of the businesses. But the news media were
everywhere. One of the businesses in the flood area
was a hamburger restaurant called Mels Diner.
Since he didnt have any customers, Mel started
giving away free hamburgers to the workers repairing
the water pipe. The TV news crews took video of this,
and that evening thousands of viewers saw a happy
report on what a fine citizen Mels Diner is.
For the cost of a few hamburgers, Mel got the kind of
media coverage you just cant buy, because he
did the right thing at the right time.
Five critical steps in crisis
The goal of a crisis management
plan should be containment and positive counteraction.
Here are the five critical steps:
1) Structure and plan. Hypothesize the
worst scenarios and circumstances, and then the best
possible outcomes. Work backwards from the outcome to
identify the steps needed to reach that goal.
2) Analyze and critique. Set up a
crisis-control committee and talk through the plan,
event by event, situation by situation, and develop a
schematic that visualizes how the plan
3) Test and demonstrate. Conduct rehearsals
or simulations as close to full-scale as possible.
4) Establish contingencies. Include
what ifs. Identify outside experts
who can work side-by-side with your people before the
situation gets out of control. Include them in your
tests and analyses, too.
5) Coach and train spokespersons as quickly
as possible, and routinely thereafter. They will
lead, focus and control the organizations
crisis-plan execution and reaction to crisis. Before
any crisis hits, make sure you have a crisis-control
chain of command.
Crisis Case Study
Lets say you are a
developer who bought a large apartment building in
the middle of Moscow occupied primarily by elderly
people, and you plan to turn it into a luxury hotel.
You are going to throw the old folks out so you can
do this. The media love this kind of story, and they
will likely portray you as a villain. Reporters will
ask you why you are throwing the old people out on
How would you respond to reporters' questions?
Submit your strategy ideas here,
and then consider one possible message strategy we've
One final instance of how a crisis can be turned
into an opportunity for good PR:
Johnson and Johnson is a large medicine company in
the United States. Several years ago (1986) someone
put capsules poisoned with lethal amounts of cyanide
in Johnson and Johnson medicine bottles of Tylenol on
store shelves. Before anyone could do anything, seven
people died from the poisoned medicine. The company
met the crisis head-on. First, they spent
$300-million recalling all samples of the medicine
bottles. Then they introduced new tamper-proof
medicine containers that changed the entire industry.
But most importantly, the company was prepared, it
acted coolly, they answered the tough questions, and
in the end maintained their dominance in the market.
They used the media to demonstrate their concern and
their determination to resolve the crisis. It was a
message of courage and leadership through effective
public relations. (Learn more
about this case and additional examples of
other companies' successful crisis management
* * *
Remember the old rule: the best defense is a
good offense. And always look for a new opportunity in
the middle of a crisis.
Campaign strategy: using PR in your political and issue