Volume 23 (2022), Issue 7 (July)
ISSN 1619-2400, www.crisisnavigator.com

Crisis Management - An Outline for Survival

by Richard Wm. Brundage

Introduction & Purpose

As I travel the country talking with CEO’s of major corporations as well as governmental organizations, I generally begin by asking the room full of these people how many of them expect a crisis to occur within the next several years. Almost 75% to 80% of the attendees at my seminars raise their hands acknowledging the probability or potential for a crisis to occur. I then ask how many of these CEO’s or Directors have taken their management staff through a planning exercise to identify - do an audit - of potential crisis areas, and then develop a plan to deal with each of these potential crises. Only about 8 to 10% raise their hands. My final question is the eye opener: I ask, "how many of you have a crisis communications plan to thoroughly explain this crisis internally as well as externally to a variety of publics, and have rehearsed it with your first responders?" Virtually no hands are ever raised.

No public sector organization - whose funding and longevity - is solely based on public and political support can afford to be unprepared for a crisis event. And, communicating quickly, honestly and effectively with subordinates, superiors, the media, government agencies and other key publics is essential to minimizing a crisis and preventing a lingering crisis and the damage both can cause. At the Center for Advanced Media Studies, we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve a sense of stability and confidence in preparing for, and minimizing the effects of a crisis before they occur, learning from past crises and creating a crisis management and crisis communications plan that is tailored for that organization and one that is a "living, working, ever-changing document".

What is a Crisis?

Simply stated, a crisis is anything that has the potential to negatively affect the reputation or credibility of an organization. Every organization will face a crisis at some point, and to ignore that fact, or to be unprepared for it is akin to being a bull rider: It’s not "if" you’re going to be hurt, it’s "when" and "how bad". An organization does not have to be a "high profile" entity to experience a crisis and become "front page" headlines.

What is Crisis Management?

Crisis management is simply a plan that works to minimize the potential damage of a crisis, and in some cases can be effective in eliminating a potential crisis altogether. It is a two-pronged exercise created by the crisis management team (CMT). The first is the crisis management plan, and the second is the crisis communications plan. Together they form the most potent prescription for protection against crisis failure.

The single most important factor in surviving a crisis is having previously earned a substantial amount of goodwill from your clients, your employees, stakeholders and stockholders, as well as other community leaders. Equally important is the establishment of a "crisis culture" within your organization that deals with: crisis planning, crisis preparation, communications and evaluation after a crisis.

Identifying a crisis - Finding crisis potentialities

In his book entitled "Crisis Communications", Kevin Dougherty quoted Johnson & Johnson President, David R. Clare, talking about the riveting effect of their credo after the Tylenol tampering crisis. Here is their credo:

  • "We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, and all other who use our products and services."
  • "We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit."
  • "We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens - support good works, support charities and bear our fair share of taxes."
  • "Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for."
    Any organization can utilize these admirable objectives and sentiments - whether public or private. Just modify them to fit your own organization.

Your mission statement

Does your organization have a mission statement? Do all of your employees, as well as your key publics know exactly what that mission statement is? If not, this is an excellent time to develop one, modify the one you have, or simply take it off the shelf, dust it off, and make it a "living credo" - one that will underpin all that you do.

Before a crisis occurs

Every organization should initially conduct what I call a "crisis vulnerability audit". Simply stated, this is nothing more than "management by walking around, looking and asking questions." To do this, you must first create a crisis management team (CMT). Here are some steps I recommend in creating this CMT. The key to having an effective team is not to wait. Do it now.

(1) Identify key management personnel in your organization.

(2) Keep the CMT as small a possible. The more people you have on the CMT, the more difficult it is to reach quick decisions in an efficient manner. The ideal number is around 8, and certainly no more than 10. The governing factor in creating this team is the question: "Have I gathered all the inforeventuality?"

(3) Each CMT member must be a decision maker in their area of expertise. They must also be able to take divergent information and make meaningful recommendations and develop courses of action.

(4) Each member must have specific responsibilities set out in writing. These written "roles" are extremely important, so that all team members know who is going to do what during a crisis.

(5) Every member must possess creativity along with the ability to accept responsibility and be a self-starter who can meet deadlines, and all members of the CMT must possess ethical operating practices that are above reproach.

(6) Your team should be given the time to be well-trained and all should be easily reached. Crises don’t happen "on time and on schedule!"

(7) Your CMT should then conduct a "crisis vulnerability audit" in their areas of responsibility. This is why your CMT should be made up of managers that virtually cover every area that a crisis could occur in. Each must have the authority in that area to make decisions. There are "warning signs" that precede every crisis. These can be observed by talking to those in your areas of responsibility, by looking for things that could happen, that if improperly responded to would create a crisis and negatively impact your organization.

Prepare Key Messages

After creating your CMT, and conducting the crisis vulnerability audit, convene your team and prioritize your areas of vulnerability on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, do the following:

(1) Prepare a crisis action plan for each potential crisis. This will include individual responsibilities on the CMT. Make each of these action plans simple and direct, and tab them in your crisis management document in the section dealing with that crisis.

(2) Prepare a one page fact sheet on that crisis. This should contain what you have done to prepare for this crisis, what you have done in the past during a similar crisis and what your agency is trained to do.

(3) Prepare key messages to your key publics.

  • Make sure that you communicate first with your internal public. Rumors are started there first, and uninformed employees at all levels must be told as much information as possible and as soon as possible, and continually updated. Never, never leave your internal public uninformed. They are your advocates and one of your best resources for additional information and support during a crisis.
  • Prepare news releases that contain a much information as you can possible give out at the time. Remember to include all media outlets at the same time. You should have the fax and phone numbers of all media, local and national in your crisis communications plan, and continually update them.
  • Next, communicate with others in the community who have a need to know; i.e., public officials, disaster coordinators, emergency responders, stakeholders and others who will share your uniform message. "Uniformity of Response" is vital during a crisis.
  • Your CMT must have an individual who is designated as the "release authority" for information. That individual must be the one who receives all of the information from your other members, prepares the fact sheets, the news releases and communicates with the various publics. This person should have no other assignments, as communicating is vital. The first 24 hours of a crisis can often make or break an organization based on how they handle the communication aspects of it.

Remember, when communicating during a crisis, it is your responsibility - the responsibility of the CMT - to not only instill confidence in your various publics that you know what you are doing, and are doing it effectively and efficiently, but to place the crisis in it’s proper perspective with the media. It is not their job to do that. It is yours. They will report only on the crisis. Here are some guidelines in developing "themes" that tell the rest of the story:

  • How has your organization prepared for this crisis?
  • How has your organization helped others in the past in situations like this?
  • What advances have you made in preparation for situations like this?
  • What are some of the successes that you’ve achieved?
  • What have you done to prevent this crisis?
  • Are you perceived as the "leader" in this area?
  • If you’ve experienced this crisis before, how have your employees handled the situation?
  • Has your organization been perceived as a "good citizen", and if so, when and how.

10 key points to remember

(1) Ensure all managers and employees know the Goals, Objectives, Roles and Mission Statement of your organization.

(2) Conduct a "crisis potentiality audit".

(3) Identify, recruit and train your CMT complete with job description and reporting procedures.

(4) Allocate resources for a crisis operations room and all of the supporting elements.

(5) Develop a crisis management plan based on your crisis vulnerability audit and make recommendations for preventive measures.

(6) Identify your target audiences, the appropriate message; your messengers and your message delivery systems.

(7) Conduct crisis management exercises at least twice a year.

(8) Make adjustments to your crisis management plan following these exercises to keep this a "living, working document".

(9) Designate a spokesperson and an alternate spokesperson for the CMT.

(10) Remember, when crisis management is done properly and is based on crisis preparation, crisis planning and regular twice a year exercises, it can lead to the ultimate - crisis prevention.

About the author

Richard Wm. Brundage, is the President of the Center for Advanced Media Studies, Lenexa, Kansas, USA. Brundage has been a television and radio news reporter and anchor, and served as an Army officer during the Vietnam conflict conducting press briefing for world wide media at the DaNang Press Center. He is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities, and conducts media respone and crisis communications seminars for organizations, associations and corporations. E-Mail: rbrundage@earthlink.net

First published in Crisisnavigator (ISSN 1619-2400):
Volume 1 (2000) - Issue 9 (September)

Date: Tuesday, 5. July 2022 - 12:25:00 Uhr

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