Coping with a crisis

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full – Henry Kissinger

No company is immune to a crisis and therefore your biggest asset will be your preparedness.  Having a crisis management plan in place will set out clear steps on how to handle the situation in the best way possible. This plan should identify a crisis management team including external advisers such as lawyers, financial advisers and PR advisers, which should seek to anticipate potential crises.  The plan should outline first steps to be taken such as releasing a holding statement, a clear social media response, gathering necessary information, agreeing on key messages and preparing your spokespeople. When it comes to a crisis you can never be too prepared, so crisis training for key management staff is a must!

A botched cover-up is usually judged more harshly than the original sin – Jeff Randall

It has been said that the public won’t judge you on the crisis itself but it will judge you on your response.  When it comes to a crisis it is important to respond quickly, with empathy and transparency, and to outline all actions the company has taken to deal with the situation effectively.  Last year, Volkswagen was judged poorly for its slow response in dealing with its emission crisis, upsetting the public and shareholders.  During 2010’s BP oil crisis which was the biggest off-shore spill in US history, CEO Tony Hayward famously said in an interview “I’d like my life back” which resulted in public resentment and anger.  During a crisis it is vital to respond quickly, engaging with media, public and shareholders through all communication channels.  The quicker you are able to respond and the more transparent you are, the more you are in control of your external and internal communications.

Demonstrate that you are taking control of your company’s response, even if all you can do is explain that there is little information available – Sir Richard Branson

If you don’t shape your story, somebody else will: that is true for any interview opportunity but even more so when it comes to responding to a crisis.  The minute a crisis breaks, speculation will start and so it is advisable to have a credible, trained spokesperson available to face the media as soon as the situation is assessed.  This can be done in the form of a radio, broadcast or print/online interview.  Try and get ahead of the story and frame it in your own terms. Last year’s Germanwings tragedy which saw a pilot crash a plane in the French Alps resulting in a loss of 150 lives was reported around the world.  Parent company Lufthansa’s Chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr’s reaction to the tragedy was immediate, moreover he showed compassion and credibility which reassured staff, shareholders and the public.

It takes years to build a reputation but only seconds to destroy it, which is why your communications during a crisis are so vital.  Conversely, if businesses get it right by doing the right thing, they can demonstrate real authority and integrity.

Get it right; get it fast; get it out; and get it over – Warren Buffett


For more information please contact Giles Sanderson, Deputy Chairman

020 7466 5000