Crisis Comms 101: Assessing the Post-Crisis Prognosis


As U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Chad “Fat-Foot” Saylor used to say, “Crisis is hard.”

The first post in our “Crisis Comms 101” series laid out the sucky outcomes of a poorly-managed crisis. The outcomes include long-term loss of credibility, confidence and, ultimately, the loss of support required to do what your organization does, whether it be a charity, a government agency or Fortune 500 company.

In the posts that followed, I outlined the actions managers can take and things they should consider in ensuring they are prepared for crisis and have a course of action when crisis hits.

Nevertheless, as ol’ Bob Burns used to say, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley,” (I think that last part is loosely translated to “often turn to sh*t.)

It’s very difficult for a communicator – even a seasoned one – to accurately assess whether their plan was a good one, or whether it was executed properly, in the midst of chaos. Sometimes the mistakes are glaring, other times the missteps are subtle. A manager and the organization may have done everything right according to the plan and it will still seem like they failed. That’s because, as U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Chad “Fat-Foot” Saylor used to say, “Crisis is hard.”

It’s also important for managers and leadership to understand that once they’re in a crisis, the aim is to mitigate and contain the negative impacts. If leadership expects you to completely neutralize any impact, you’ve mismanaged expectations.

So the question becomes: how does a manager gauge whether crisis communication efforts were successful once the storm has passed? For my part, I like to examine, then answer, three questions:

1. Has confidence in the organization been maintained?
The understanding and support of costumers, stakeholders and the public is critical to the success of your organization, regardless of your mission. Crisis threatens that understanding and support, so if you come out on the other side maintaining one or (hopefully) both, you’ve effectively mitigated one of the more damaging impacts.

2. Have you preserved your relationships with the local communities in which you operate? 
A cornerstone of effective communication is relationships. A good manager knows that building and maintaining working relationships with trade and local media, as well as the communities in which they operate, is good business. A crisis threatens those relationships. These relationships were important to your operations before the crisis and you will need to work with the same people once the crisis has passed. If the relationship is damaged, it will impact you long after the crisis has passed.

3. Have you preserved the understanding and support of employees and their families? 
Never underestimate the power of a crisis on your employees.  If the community is angry with your organization, your people and their families may bear the brunt of outrage in their neighborhoods, schools or in the workplace.  If you’re not taking care of them or keeping them informed during crisis, it can have a demoralizing effect that will impact operations for months or years to come.

An individual’s true character is revealed in crisis. The same is true for organizations. What will you reveal about your organization? If you are genuine, transparent and forthright, people will remember. If you are not — people will not forget.

*This is the last post in a series covering the fundamentals of managing crisis comms. Check out posts the previous posts:
Why Crisis Suck
Anatomy of a Crisis
Preparing for the Inevitable
Canary in the Coal Mine
Canaries are Dead, Spider Monkeys are Nigh

Talk to me, Goose.

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