“Just Winging It” is Not an Option for Crisis Management

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    As with any endeavor, preparation greatly increases your chances of success

    Can you imagine a squad of firefighters deciding to throw out their plans and training “just wing it” when they head into a burning building?

    The idea is ridiculous of course, but why are so many who would scoff at that willing to charge into crisis headfirst without any sort of game plan in place?

    Former EBay COO and current Yahoo! Chairman Maynard Webb is no stranger to crisis management, and in a Linkedin blog post he explained precisely what every organization SHOULD be doing to prepare for when a crisis hits:

    Ideally, you want to be deploying a playbook rather than developing a playbook. Most often, people don’t do this in advance and then have to develop processes while in battle — that’s much harder. At eBay, when we learned that hours after 9/11 people were putting debris from the World Trade Center for sale on the site…we knew how to respond immediately because we had a policy in place that detailed that we would not profit from disaster. Because of this, we were able to respond immediately and take it down.

    Most likely, EBay’s playbook for incidents involving users selling items related to disasters was something like a few lines of text in the Terms of Service and a canned message that was delivered to anyone posting such items.

    It sounds simple, but without the advance crisis management work of creating a rule explicitly against profiting from disaster and a way to respond should such a situation arise, EBay could have become the center of a reputation-damaging controversy.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]