Business News

Virtual crisis management in the real world

By Business & Finance
29 September 2014
crisis management

Managing a complex crisis online and off is possible – it just needs a plan, writes Alan Tyrrell of PSG Group.

“There cannot be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full,” Henry Kissinger once said. However a crisis will inevitably impact your organisation and it will usually when you least want it or expect it.

While a crisis will be complex, the management of it can be quite simple. With the right preparation, appropriate responses and a clear plan for recovery, brands – big and small – can effectively deal with and recover from a crisis.

Crisis retweet

Once, experts declared that the first 24 hours were critical in crisis management. Now, it is the first 60 minutes and potentially, the first 140 characters. From tweets on HMV’s demise, to Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO’s ousting via an offhand remark made six years earlier, a lack of awareness of how to deal with social and traditional media carries a high cost when responding to a crisis. Get it wrong and your crisis could live forever on the top results of a Google Search page.

So here are a few simple steps and models that will help you find the opportunity in the crisis.

Step 1: Best practice preparation

The first step in crisis management is preparation and agreeing a measurable definition of what a crisis actually is. This means building a bespoke model for your business and one that allows you to assess if could potentially become a real crisis. Ideally your model will also allow you to predict the scale of the crisis and the escalation path.

Without this model, the danger is that you end up misjudging the issue and ignoring the growing crisis. As a rule of thumb, use just four quantifiable measurements although each one can have a number of components as follows:

  • Early impact online e.g. the number of posts, retweets, tone. This warns you that that something is coming.
  • Physical impact e.g. human injury or loss, asset damage.
  • Financial impact e.g. lost revenue, reparation costs.
  • Reputation impact e.g. brand damage, drop in NPS, drop in employee engagement.

Step 2: Understand the media reporting cycle

The reporting cycle in a crisis is vital. Not only in the first hour, but throughout the crisis and it can be split into four clear strands under the title of MESS:

  • Mayhem – this is the chaos at the start of any crisis. It will be fast paced and based on news bulletins or on social media channels. Typically, social media and traditional media will report the mayhem as quickly as possible.
  • Epicenter – and this is where the focus will go after the mayhem. This means getting to see what’s at the core of the problem and it usually covers the aftermath too.
  • Searchlights – this is where the hunt is on for the person or people who caused the problem. This is when the manhunt starts and careers come to an abrupt end.
  • Stoplight – the crisis reporting stops and is superseded by the next big story or somebody else’s crisis.

Step 3: Respond with clarity, speed and accuracy

There is one thing people want in a crisis and that’s information. They also want it quickly and frequently. If you do not provide it, they will source their information from somewhere else. In our ‘TraDigital’ world this means that information (or misinformation) can be in the hands of your customers within minutes of an incident occurring.

When communicating, be open, honest and transparent with the information you have and bear four simple rules in mind – the 4 Rs of crisis response:

  • Rule 1: Regret – say you are sorry. You are in the court of public opinion so express regret and mean it.
  • Rule 2: Resolve – prove you are sorry by fixing what’s broken as quickly as you can. If it’s going to take time, explain that clearly and openly. Keep telling everyone until it is fixed.
  • Rule 3: Reform – find and fix the root cause of the problem to ensure it doesn’t happen again. And tell people.
  • Rule 4: Recompense – if your mistake costs people money, you need to fix that for them too. It may not always be necessary, but plan for it just in case.

When will it end?

A major mistake among companies who succumb to a crisis is their failure to have a post crisis plan. Things do return to normal. However it is a new normal and success relies on making time to prepare for a crisis in advance, investing in the skills to deal with that crisis when it happens and having a clear plan for rebuilding the business post crisis.


Alan TyrrellAlan Tyrrell leads the corporate and reputation management business of PSG Communication.

Tyrrell has supported clients through crises including industrial accidents, systems failures, organisation change and product recalls.