How to handle a crisis in your organisation

When crisis strikes, how you respond is everything

A crisis which is poorly managed can destroy company value and reputation in a matter of hours.

A crisis can strike anytime, anywhere and leave a path of destruction in its wake.

You may think it will never happen to my organisation, but the truth is, every organisation is at risk, especially at a time when one damaging tweet can turn into a huge problem overnight for you and your stakeholders.

So, how should you handle a crisis?

Strategically planning for a crisis BEFORE the event occurs is the smart move.

That may not always be possible, but it’s important to try and foresee potential crises and plan accordingly.

Don’t wait until you’re up to your neck in quick sand to react.

How to handle a crisis in your organisation

Your Crisis Communication Plan

The best thing you can do to protect your brand and organisation is to develop your crisis communication plan.

Organise a brainstorming session with key people in your team and come up with a list of potential crises which could damage the organisation and brand.

Outline the main stakeholders who may be affected by the crises and detail how you will react in each situation – the response you will give, best/worst case scenarios.

Capture the session in your crisis communication plan to return to when/if disaster strikes.

This will form the basis of your crisis communication strategy.

Proper Monitoring

Investing in a good monitoring system can help stop a small fire spreading like wildfire.

Have your communications team monitor what’s been said about you on social media and respond accordingly.

Hold regular team meetings with client facing employees to keep up to date with how customers are engaging with your service, to prevent any issues arising.

How to handle a crisis in your organisation

Holding Statement

Draft a holding statement. A situation may occur where you don’t know all of the facts and are hesitant to comment until the situation becomes clearer.

Rather than run the risk of a media frenzy, you can issue a holding statement to inform stakeholders that you are working on the issue, and will have an update as soon as possible.

This buys you enough time to gather all of the facts and draft an appropriate response.

But what happens if disaster strikes, and you’re not prepared?

The first step. Gather your team, identify your main spokesperson, and decide on your key messages.

Correct messaging in the early stage of a crisis situation is vital.

Every message from your organisation must be clear, consistent and aligned – everyone on the team must tow the party line.

Your spokesperson is also central to the success of the communication strategy.

He/She must be briefed on all aspects of the crisis, and fully prepared to answer challenging questions from the media and stakeholders.

Ideally your spokesperson has had regular media training and participated in several live interviews where difficult questions were asked.

How to handle a crisis in your organisation

Deepwater Horizon and that PR disaster

Who can forget the DeepWater Horizon Oil spill of April 2010, the largest environmental disaster in U.S history where 11 men lost their lives.

Two months after the spill, BP’s Spokesperson and CEO Tony Hayward made a comment in an interview and within weeks resigned from his role as CEO.

Tony told reporters “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back”.

Two months into the crisis, the interview perhaps captured a moment of complete exhaustion from the CEO, however it’s an important lesson for current and future spokespeople in your organisation.

It does not matter how much the crisis is affecting you, your company or your personal life, your customers do not want to hear about it.

Their only concern is how you fix the problem and improve the situation for them.


Be honest and open 

Transparency means everything in 2018.

Lying or stretching the truth is a sure fire way to create more damage and ill feeling toward your brand.

People buy from, and work with brands they trust.

In a world where organisations are competing for consumer’s attention, emphasis is placed on a trustworthy brand.

To turn the corner quicker, be as open as possible to prevent rumours and a media frenzy, and start to work quickly on rebuilding trust with your customers.

Act now

Don’t keep your stakeholders in the dark, go into hiding, or turn the crisis into a witch hunt.

You will only add more fuel to the fire and drum up even more interest in the situation.

Instead, update early and often. Issue short statements and keep key stakeholders informed of any developments, minor or major.

Keep the channels of communication open at all times.

Better the update coming from you than a ‘source’. That’s how the rumour mill starts.

How to handle a crisis in your organisation

Can anyone hear me?

Ensure stakeholders do not struggle to find information from you.

Check that your messages are easily accessible across multiple communication channels.

Don’t assume that everyone will check their email daily or has access to a twitter account.

Make a list of important stakeholders and decide on the best platforms to reach them.

It might seem like overkill, but in a crisis situation it’s necessary.

Crises, Social Media and the Citizen Journalist 

Everyday minor crises happen in organisations all over the world and are handled internally without public knowledge.

Social media and citizen journalism means that your crisis can become top of the news agenda in a matter of hours.

Take United Airlines as an example.

In 2017 airline staff demanded that an elderly doctor leave its flight due to overbooking.

When he refused, security stepped in and violently dragged the man from the plane in full view of the remaining passengers, and their camera phones.

The video quickly became viral, prompting United Airlines and its CEO, Oscar Munoz to address the situation.

Unfortunately Munoz misjudged the public mood, and ultimately made the situation worse when he apologised for having to ‘re-accommodate these customers’.

The following day Wall Street reported shares in the group were down around 4 per cent, temporarily wiping close to $1bn off the company’s total market value.

How to handle a crisis situation in your organisation

How can we learn?

So, what can we learn from that particular crisis situation?

If you feel embarrassed or ashamed for customers to witness something your company does, then you probably shouldn’t do it.

Look at the situation from the customer’s perspective.

Take off your organisations hat for a moment, and step into their shoes.

How are they reacting to the situation, what are their feeling?

Address their concerns in every piece of communication and land your messages every time.

Potential Crisis in your Organisation?

Are you worried about a situation in your organisation?

Or do you need help preparing a crisis strategy for your team?

Our communication consultants, Gavin Duffy and Orlaith Carmody are on hand to plan your response in every kind of eventuality, helping you and your team develop the strategy and recover quickly.

Get in contact today using the inquiry form below and a member of the team will be in touch.

How to handle a crisis in your organisation

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