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They Don’t Have to Be Crises

Published on Nov. 8, 2022, at 4:37 p.m.
by Breanna Erickson.

In our world, a crisis mindset seems to be the default. In America especially, we’ve become accustomed to practicing severe weather and intruder drills, experiencing the culture shock following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and living in the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic.

In a well-working crisis management team, having a crisis mindset is crucial. “Crisis mindset” can be described as the ability to imagine the worst-case scenario, maintaining an ongoing list of possibilities and contingency plans.

But … how do you properly execute crisis communication?

Predict. Prevent. Prepare. Perform. Post-action and assessment.

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As public relations practitioners and students, we all know the five P’s of crisis management. We study them, understand how to execute them and live by them. The last century has birthed the 24-hour news cycle, instant messaging and a thirst for every detail (and thousands of places to read as much as possible).

A crisis can be defined by multiple terms, but it’s related to three different organizational impacts: public safety, financial loss or reputation loss. The incidents can range from naive mistakes, such as Jimmy Kimmel’s joke gone wrong creating an unwanted spectacle during an awards ceremony, or something a bit more existential, like Instagram Kids: a version of the app made specifically for children under 13 years old.

With the nonstop nature of news and celebrity spectacle, it seems like there is a new scandal (read: crisis) every day. The growth of fibre optic cables, the internet, social media and other technology has allowed text messages and news stories to be delivered in mere seconds. Because of this speed of information transmission, organizations rely on in-house crisis management teams to use the five P’s of crisis management to maintain reputation and standings with stakeholders, clients and other key publics.

Less than 50% of business leaders have documented their crisis communications plans. However, organizations experience an annual average of three crises. What is the harm of having a dedicated crisis team? Or better yet: What is the harm of not having a dedicated crisis team?

While PR practitioners are generally seen as the prime organizer for crisis teams, in-house crisis management teams work best when they are made from many different departments. In his 2001 book “Crisis in Organizations II,” Larry Barton, Ph.D., stated that “common members” of a crisis team come from PR, legal, security, operations and HR departments.

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Having a team made up of departments from across the organization allows crisis communications to be disseminated quickly. For instance, the PR practitioner doesn’t have to worry about getting in touch with the legal department about the constraints of the messaging if there’s a member of the department right there on the team.

From the moment a message is electronically sent, less than five seconds pass before it is delivered to the recipient. Time is cyclical and history repeats itself, meaning that organizational crises are inevitable. It isn’t possible to go back in time to fix any mistakes, but you can prepare by creating a crisis management team and implementing a crisis management plan.

Crisis management is crucial to a well-run organization. It encourages bottom-up feedback and inter-organizational communication that have the potential to dispel anxiety in the inevitable event of a crisis. The strategy is simple: Predict, prevent, prepare, and perform with post-action and assessments.

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