Your 5-step crisis management cheat sheet

When disaster strikes, don't panic. Just remember the basics.

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 15 Aug 2019

What do you do when you are hit with an accusation about your company? You may think the answer depends on whether the accusation is justified or not, but in the Instagram age perception is reality, and some companies handle the media circus better than others. Here’s how. 

Find the facts

"The first thing you need to do is get on the phone and find out is it true, is it really happening, what’s the scope of it, what information can you get," advises Adrian Beeby, a former director at comms consultancy FWD.

Use this information to sit down with your crisis team and figure out what to do next.

Don’t rush in

The instinctive reaction at this stage is to gather as many PRs and lawyers as you can find, with the aim of limiting the damage. But, taking a step back from the situation may be wiser.

In the initial stages of a crisis there are likely to be lots of questions but precious few answers, so rather than trying to answer them prematurely it usually works better to wait: if the statement you release early turns out to be erroneous then it will only be worse for you when you have to correct yourself. 

If you’re going to apologise, do it properly 

Legally speaking, you may not be able to say sorry, even if as a human being you’d like to. But if you do decide to express your regret, pick your words (and your spokepeople) carefully.

Comments such as "there’s no one who wants this over more than I do" and "I’d like my life back" will not get you far, as Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, found out in 2010 after the biggest oil spill in US history occurred under his watch.

A better example would be Merlin Entertainment CEO Nick Varney, whose handling of the Smiler rollercoaster accident was characterised by openness, co-operation and a willingness to accept responsibility.

Be honest

"Don’t lie," says Beeby. The truth has a nasty habit of getting out - and it will look much, much worse for you. Refrain also from getting caught up in social media spats, even if you think you’re in the right. "Take it offline," advises Beeby.

And remember this

People will say things you don’t agree with, things that maybe aren’t fair, and they’ll demand answers you don’t have. It won’t be easy. But you cannot change what has happened and you cannot control the flow of information.

The things that are in your control include providing good, clear communication. As with any communication, it will go a lot better if you allow yourself to be human, with all the vulnerability that entails.

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