Crisis Management, What’s Your Style?
By Bill Kamp
In 1957 the classic movie about crisis management, Sweet Smell of Success, debuted on screens all over America. It seems that J.J. Hunsecker, a very powerful New York gossip columnist, like Walter Winchell, had a crisis; his baby sister Susan had fallen madly in love with Steve Dallas, an up-and-coming jazz musician. Hunsecker dispatches his erstwhile toady, press agent Sidney Falco to manage the crisis by breaking up the two lovebirds.
Sidney, in turn, handles his crisis management assignment by creating a crisis and putting a number schemes into play like spreading a rumor about Dallas being a dope smoking pinko communist. Other tactics include planting marijuana and a roughing up by crooked cop Lt. Harry Kello.
Crisis Management Has Come a Long Way Since the 1950s… or has it?
Somewhere along the way some really smart people figured out that utilizing violent and brass knuckle tactics aren’t the best way for managing a crisis. Although once-in-a-while it rears it’s ugly head, like United Airlines forcibly dragging a respected physician, Dr. David Dao off his flight to Louisville. As security officials were trying to “bump” Dr. Dao, he ended up with a broken nose, two teeth knocked out and a slight concussion.
The first reaction by United’s Chief Executive, Oscar Munoz was that he called the passenger “disruptive” and “belligerent” because he would not give up his seat. Dao stated that it was because he wanted to get back to his patients. Later Mr. Munoz did apologize but it seemed too little too late.
It puzzles me – if United is going to have a policy of “bumping” passengers – that a bunch of smart, highly paid people didn’t sit in a conference room going through an exercise of “what if?” to anticipate what if a passenger refuses the incentives and volunteer to give up his or her seat. Then formulate a strategic response for this slight occurrence.
The Right Way
The best way to crisis management is to be ready to manage the crisis way before it happens. Figure out the “what ifs” and have a plan for each “what if?” Social media is a fast mover so getting on top of a crisis has to be just as quick. Training is also a key component; the client must know what to say and how to say it.
One of our clients, American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD/LAB) has a very important mission – establishing standards in crime lab certification that satisfy the stringent demands of the criminal justice system. ASCLD/LAB’s message to crime labs is, “We know that everything that happens in your crime lab has an impact – on victims, on defendants, on the justice system, on your credibility.”
We created the branding and the positioning line, Quality Matters. BBG built an ad campaign, collateral materials, banners for trade shows and a website. Behind all this we developed a Crisis Management Plan. In the world of crime labs, crises do happen and very quickly can get out-of-control. Our plan included identifying key spokespeople and training. Afterwards they were awarded a unique laminated wallet sized card which could be used as a reference guide prior to for example an appearance before the press.
The Great Raleigh Fire of 2017
On March 16 the five-story, under construction, Metropolitan apartment building caught fire. To quote The News & Observer, “The fire started around 10 p.m. and quickly became one of the biggest infernos Raleigh has seen since the 1920s.”
The next day a number of building and construction companies in the Triangle realized that they, in fact, needed a crisis management plan. To answer the call, a number of PR and ad agencies immediately got to work on crisis management plans for their clients.
I know we did.
Don’t Have a Crisis Management Plan? 5 Steps You Can Do Now
1) Identify Potential Crises
Get your team together to brainstorm and identify potential or likely crises you could experience in the near future. Anything from King Kong to the dog ate my financial projections.
2) Develop A Plan
Prioritize “what if” crises based on likelihood of occurrence and potential impact on your company. Develop a plan for the top 5 crises.
3) Draft Your Team
Create your media response team, have them rehearse the response plans of the 5 top crises. Identify lead spokespeople during a media crisis.
4) Sound The Siren
Identify key stakeholders that would need to be alerted. Establish a process for alerting all stakeholders about crisis and how to respond.
5) Who’s On The Hot Seat?
Identify who is responsible for monitoring the crisis when it happens. Create a list of all your internal and external communications channels (including social media) – and make sure you know who is responsible for approving and releasing media statements on those channels.
It is crucial for your team to have experienced public relations and media professionals at your disposal before, during, and after a crisis to ensure your team can manage public perception and communicate your messaging in a clear and united fashion. At Burkhead Brand Group, we are uniquely positioned to help handle any media response needs, and putting out fires.