All About Crisis Management

Sections of this topic

    All About Crisis Management

    Sections of This Topic Include

    10 Steps of Crisis Communications
    Guidelines for Successful Crisis Management
    Guidelines for Successful Social Crisis Planning
    Examples of Organizations’ Successful — and Unsuccessful
    — Crisis Management

    Also consider
    Crisis Management:
    Advice about responding to a crisis, once it’s already occurred
    Business Insurance:
    Guidelines and advice about buying various kinds of insurance
    Risk Management:
    Guarding against theft, fire, disasters, etc.
    Safety in the Workplace:
    About types of workplace injuries, programs to reduce accidents, etc.)
    or Repairing Your Reputation

    Related Library Topics

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Crisis Management

    In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs
    that have posts related to Crisis Management. Scan down the blog’s page to see
    various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar
    of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.
    The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

    Business Ethics Blog

    Crisis Management Blog

    The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications

    By Jonathan
    L. Bernstein
    (Update 2016 by Jonathan Bernstein. All rights reserved.)

    Crisis: Any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation and/or negatively impact the bottom line.

    Every organization is vulnerable to crises. The days of playing ostrich – burying
    your head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away – are gone. You can try,
    but your stakeholders will not be understanding or forgiving because they’ve
    watched what happened with Volkswagen, Chipotle, FIFA, and Lance Armstrong.

    If you don’t prepare, you will incur more damage. When I look at existing crisis
    -related plans while conducting a vulnerability audit (the first
    step in crisis
    ), what I often find is a failure to address the many communications
    issues related to crisis
    or disaster response
    . Experience demonstrates that organizational leadership
    often does not understand that in the absence of adequate internal and external

    • Operational response will break down.
    • Stakeholders will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive.
    • The organization will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst.
    • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically.
    • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line will be more severe.

    The basic steps of effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they
    require advance work in order to minimize damage. So if you’re serious about
    crisis preparedness and response, read and implement these 10 steps of crisis
    communications, the first seven of which can and should be undertaken before
    any crisis occurs.


    1. Anticipate Crises

    If you’re being proactive and preparing for crises, gather your Crisis Communications
    Team for intensive brainstorming sessions on all the potential crises that could
    occur at your organization.

    There are at least two immediate benefits to this exercise:

    • You may realize that some of the situations are preventable by simply modifying existing methods of operation.
    • You can begin to think about possible responses, about best-case/worst-case scenarios, etc. Better now than when under the pressure of an actual crisis.

    In some cases, of course, you know a crisis will occur because you’re planning
    to create it – e.g., to lay off employees, or to make a major acquisition.

    There is a more formal method of gathering this information I call a “vulnerability
    audit,” about which information
    is available here

    This assessment process should lead to creating a Crisis Response Plan that
    is an exact fit for your organization, one that includes both operational and
    communications components. The remaining steps, below, outline some of the major
    topics that should be addressed in the communications section of the plan.

    2. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team

    A small team of senior executives should be identified to serve as your organization’s
    Crisis Communications Team. Ideally, the organization’s CEO will lead the team,
    with the firm’s top public relations executive and legal counsel as his or her
    chief advisers. If your in-house PR executive does not have sufficient crisis
    communications expertise, he or she may choose to retain an agency or independent
    consultant with that specialty. Other team members are typically the heads of
    your major organizational divisions, as any situation that rises to the level
    of being a crisis will affect your entire organization. And sometimes, the team
    also needs to include those with special knowledge related to the current crisis,
    e.g., subject-specific experts.

    Let me say a word about legal counsel. Historically, I used to have to do a
    lot of arm-wresting with attorneys over strategy and messaging. They were focused
    strictly on the court of law and, of course, a crisis manager is focused primarily
    on the court of public opinion. More and more lawyers understand that the organization
    in crisis can be destroyed in the court of public opinion years before the legal
    process plays out. And attorneys have also come to understand that, while “no
    comment” translates as “we’re guilty or hiding something” to the public, there
    are a lot of ways to say very little without compromising legal matters, while
    still appearing responsive to those seeking more information.

    Remember this – entire countries and causes have had their ambitions thwarted,
    or aided, as a consequence of their trials in the court of public opinion.

    3. Identify and Train Spokespersons

    Categorically, any organization should ensure, via appropriate policies and
    training, that only authorized spokespersons speak for it. This is particularly
    important during a crisis. Each crisis communications team should have people
    who have been pre-screened, and trained,
    to be the lead and/or backup spokespersons for different channels of communications.

    All organizational spokespersons during a crisis situation must have:

    • The right skills
    • The right position
    • The right training

    The Right Skills

    I’ve met senior-level corporate executives who could stand up in front of
    a 1,000-person conference audience without a fear and perform beautifully –
    but who would get virtual lockjaw when they knew a camera was pointed their
    way for a one-on-one interview.

    I’ve also known very effective written communicators who should probably never
    do spoken interviews because they’re way too likely to “step in it” using that
    format. These days, spokesperson responsibilities invariably include online
    communication, and social media is a very easy place to make a mistake.

    Matching potential spokespersons’ skills with their assignments as a member
    of the Crisis Communications Team is critical.

    The Right Position

    Some spokespersons may naturally excel at all forms of crisis communications
    – traditional media, social media, B2B, internal, etc. Others may be more limited.
    Only certain types of highly sensitive crises (e.g., ones involving significant
    loss of life) virtually mandate the chief executive be the lead spokesperson
    unless there is very good cause to the contrary.

    The fact is that some chief executives are brilliant organizational leaders
    but not very effective in-person communicators. The decision about who should
    speak is made after a crisis breaks – but the pool of potential spokespersons
    should be identified and trained in advance.

    Not only are spokespersons needed for media communications, but for all types
    and forms of communications, internal and external. This includes on-camera,
    at a public meeting, at employee meetings, etc. You really don’t want to be
    making decisions about so many different types of spokespersons while “under

    4. Spokesperson Training

    Two typical quotes from well-intentioned executives summarize the reason why
    your spokespersons should receive professional training in how to speak to the

    “I talked to that nice reporter for over an hour and he didn’t use the
    most important news about my organization.”

    “I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I won’t have any trouble at that public

    Regarding the first example, there have hundreds of people skewered by CBS’
    “60 Minutes” or ABC’s “20/20” who thought they knew how to talk to the press.
    In the second case, most executives who have attended a hostile public hearing
    have gone home wishing they had been wearing a pair of Depends. They didn’t
    learn, in advance, the critical differences between proactive PR, which focuses
    on promoting your organization, and crisis communications, which focuses on
    preserving your organization.

    All stakeholders, internal and external, are just as capable of misunderstanding
    or misinterpreting information about your organization as the media. It’s your
    responsibility to minimize the chance of that happening.

    teaches you to be prepared, to be ready to respond in a way that
    optimizes the response of all stakeholders.

    5. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems

    Notification Systems

    Remember when the only way to reach someone quickly was by a single phone or
    fax number, assuming they were there to receive either?

    Today, we need to have – immediately at hand – the means to reach our internal
    and external stakeholders using multiple modalities. Many of us have several
    phone numbers, more than one email address, and can receive SMS (text) messages
    or faxes. Instant Messenger programs, either public or proprietary, are also
    very popular for business and personal use. We can even send audio and video
    messages via email. And then, of course, there is social media. This may be
    the best/fastest way to reach some of our stakeholders, but setting up social
    media accounts for this purpose and developing a number of followers/friends/contacts
    on the various social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) is
    not something you can do after a crisis breaks, because
    nowhere does news of a crisis spread faster and more out of your control than
    on social media.

    Depending on how “techie” we choose to be, all of this type of communication
    – and more – may be received on or sent by a single device!

    It is absolutely essential, pre-crisis, to establish notification systems that
    will allow you to rapidly reach your stakeholders using multiple modalities.
    The Virginia Tech campus shooting catastrophe, where email was the sole means
    of alerting students initially, proves that using any single modality can make
    a crisis worse. Some of us may be on email constantly, others not so. Some of
    us receive our cellphone calls or messages quickly, some not. If you use more
    than one modality to reach your stakeholders, the chances are much greater that
    the message will go through.

    For a long time, those of us in crisis management relied on the old-fashioned
    “phone tree” and teams of callers to track people down. Fortunately, today there
    is technology – offered by multiple vendors for rent or purchase – that can
    be set up to automatically start contacting all stakeholders in your pre-established
    database and keep trying to reach them until they confirm (e.g., by pressing
    a certain number on a phone keypad) that the message has been received. Technology
    you can trigger with a single call or email.

    Monitoring Systems

    Intelligence gathering is an essential component of both crisis prevention
    and crisis response.

    Knowing what’s being said about you on social
    , in traditional media, by your employees, customers, and other stakeholders
    often allows you to catch a negative “trend” that, if unchecked, turns into
    a crisis.

    Likewise, monitoring feedback from all stakeholders during a crisis situation
    allows you to accurately adapt your strategy and tactics.

    Both require monitoring systems be established in advance. For traditional
    and social media, Google Alerts are the no-cost favorite, but there are also
    free social media tracking apps such as Hootsuite. There a variety of paid monitoring
    services that provide not only monitoring, but also the ability to report results
    in a number of formats. Monitoring other stakeholders means training personnel
    who have front-line contact with stakeholders (e.g., Customer Service) to report
    what they’re hearing or seeing to decision-makers on your Crisis Communications

    6. Identify and Know Your Stakeholders

    Who are the internal and external stakeholders that matter to your organization?
    I consider employees to be your most important audience, because every employee
    is a PR representative and crisis manager for your organization whether you
    want them to be or not!
    But, ultimately, all stakeholders will be talking
    about you to others not on your contact list, so it’s up to you to ensure that
    they receive the messages you would like them to repeat elsewhere.

    7. Develop Holding Statements

    While full message development must await the outbreak of an actual crisis,
    “holding statements,” messages designed for use immediately after a crisis breaks,
    can be developed in advance to be used for a wide variety of scenarios to which
    the organization is perceived to be vulnerable, based on the assessment you
    conducted in Step 1 of this process. An example of holding statements by a hotel
    chain with properties hit by a natural disaster, before the organization’s headquarters
    has any hard factual information, might be:

    “We have implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest
    priority on the health and safety of our guests and staff.”

    “Our thoughts are with those who were in harm’s way, and we hope that they
    are well.”
    “We will be supplying additional information when it is
    available and posting it on our website.”

    The organization’s Crisis Communications Team should regularly review holding
    statements to determine if they require revision and/or whether statements for
    other scenarios should be developed.


    8. Assess the Crisis Situation

    Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions
    afterwards” situation in which you could be the primary victim. However, if
    you’ve done all of the above first, it’s a “simple” matter of having the Crisis
    Communications Team on the receiving end of information coming in from your
    team members, ensuring the right type of information is being provided so you
    can proceed with determining the appropriate response.

    Assessing the crisis situation is, therefore, the first crisis communications
    step you can’t take in advance. If you haven’t prepared in advance, your reaction
    will be delayed by the time it takes your in-house staff or quickly hired consultants
    to run through steps 1 to 7. Furthermore, a hastily created crisis communications
    strategy and team are never as efficient as those planned and rehearsed in advance.

    9. Finalize and Adapt Key Messages

    With holding statements available as a starting point, the Crisis Communications
    Team must continue developing the crisis-specific messages required for any
    given situation. The team already knows, categorically, what type of information
    its stakeholders are looking for. What should those stakeholders know about
    this crisis? Keep it simple. Have no more than three main messages
    that go to all stakeholders and, as necessary, some audience-specific messages
    for individual groups of stakeholders. You’ll need to adapt your messaging to
    different forms of media as well. For example, crisis messaging on Twitter often
    relies on sharing links to an outside page where a longer message is displayed,
    a must because of the platform’s 140 character limit.

    10. Post-Crisis Analysis

    After the cowpies are no longer interacting with the air-circulating device,
    the question must be asked, “What did we learn from this?”

    A formal analysis of what was done right, what was done wrong, what could be
    done better next time and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness
    is another must-do activity for any Crisis Communications Team. I have developed
    a formal process for accomplishing this, but even a solid in-house brainstorming
    session can do the job.

    “It Can’t Happen To Us”

    When a healthy organization’s CEO or CFO looks at the cost of preparing
    a crisis communications plan
    , either a heavy investment of in-house time
    or retention of an outside professional for a substantial fee, it is tempting
    for them to fantasize “it can’t happen to us” or “if it happens to us, we can
    handle it relatively easily.”

    Hopefully, that type of ostrich emulation is rapidly becoming a thing of the
    past. Yet I know when all is said and done, thousands of organizations hit by
    natural and man-made disasters will have suffered far more damage than would
    have occurred with a fully developed crisis communications plan in place. This
    has also been painfully true for scores of clients I have served
    over the past 30+ years
    . Even the best crisis management professional is
    playing catch up – with more damage occurring all the time – when the organization
    has no crisis communications infrastructure already in place.

    The Last Word – For Now

    I would like to believe organizations worldwide are finally “getting it” about
    crisis preparedness, whether we’re talking about crisis communications, disaster
    response or business continuity. Certainly, client demand for advance preparation
    has increased dramatically in the past decade, at least for my consultancy.
    But I fear there is, in fact, little change in what I have said in the past
    – that 95 percent of American organizations remain either completely unprepared
    or significantly under-prepared for crises. And my colleagues overseas report
    little better, and sometimes worse, statistics.

    Choose to be part of the prepared minority. Your stakeholders will appreciate

    Guidelines for Successful Crisis Management

    The following links are to a wide variety of guidelines for successful crisis
    management. Many of the articles include real-life examples of success.

    Recommended Articles

    Really Constitutes a Business Crisis?

    a Statement

    You a Crisis Manager?
    with catastrophe: what keeps us going in the face of adversity?

    Managing in Crisis
    Your Crisis Communication Response Plan is Due for Maintenance
    (And/Or a Rewrite)

    Questions to Avoid Crises
    and React

    Additional Articles

    Who Does What?
    Turning a Public Crisis Around
    Crisis Counselor

    Doctor Recommends Crisis Prevention – But It’s Your Choice

    Security as Crisis Prevention (video)


    Right Steps

    Advantage of Crises to Grow and Learn

    Crisis Management and Customer Service
    A Crisis

    Various Manuals
    for Crisis Interventions

    Questions to Avoid Crisis
    Reality of Communication
    Training to Prevent Disasters — Not Just the
    Job of TSA

    Turning a Liability into an Asset
    Proactive Crisis Management


    in Crisis

    You Simulate a PR Crisis and Then Handle the Real Thing?

    Your Crisis Communication Response Plan is Due for Maintenance (And/Or a Rewrite)
    the Problem

    Prevent and React
    Crisis Management Tools

    Honest Insurance?
    Crisis on Stage
    The Human Touch
    Coping with Tragedy
    Take Responsibility
    Ready and Able
    Three-Act Crises
    Own It
    Learning from Crisis
    Prepare With Dark Sites
    Real Crisis Management
    Simplify and Repeat
    Have a Plan
    Reputation Combat
    Are You Vulnerable?
    Bring On The Hate
    Crafting the Ideal Apology
    Role Responsibility
    Rumor and Innuendo
    When Share Price Puts a Value on Brand Reputation
    Business as Usual
    Ways to Ruin Your Company’s Communications Efforts

    Tip Your Hand

    Red Cross UK Disaster Challenge
    Know What You’re Talking About, Right?

    Bird Flu Breakout
    Caribbean Cops Get Crisis Communications Training
    The Digital Media Law Project
    Pledge to Prepare

    High-Speed Crisis Management
    Shackles Raise Consumer’s Hackles

    Video Crisis Management
    Family’s Reputation Management no Touchdown

    Romney Film Reveals Crisis Management Risk
    Calm Yourself Through Crisis
    Hotel Hacker Exposes E-Vulnerabilities
    Make Your Apology Mean Something
    Short Term/Long Term

    Crisis Show

    Crisis Show Ep. 2 – Crises, Crises, Everywhere!

    Crisis Show Ep. 3

    Jackings and #Fail Tweets

    Crisis Show Ep. 4


    Crisis Show Ep. 6

    Tony Robbins, Olympics & Penn State

    Crisis Show Ep. 9

    to School

    Also consider
    Networking and Social Media

    and Media Relations (including online reputation management)

    Guidelines for Successful Social Crisis Planning

    Copyright Jonathan
    L. Bernstein

    As it stands today, crisis management is very much entwined with social media.
    Whether you like it or not, when trouble hits you’ve got to quickly meet
    your stakeholders in the places they frequent in order to maintain control of
    your story, and that means being ready. In an article for,
    David Vap provided some solid tips for getting your organization in position
    to handle social crises:

    1. Understand your organization. Review external communication processes,
      social capabilities, and corporate culture. This is where we recommend scenario
      planning. Key questions could include: how would we respond if a vocal customer
      complaint suddenly went viral? How would we respond to a brandjacking attack?
    2. Create a new social mindset in your organization. The social shift calls
      for a mindset characterized by transparency, accountability, employee empowerment,
      and planned spontaneity. Technology is certainly a crucial component of dealing
      with crisis communication, but preparing processes and practices must come
    3. Know your consumers. Listen to conversations unfolding on the social web
      about your brand, and respond/employ proactive social support. Also identify
      your customer advocates on the social web – they will be invaluable
      in the event of a crisis.
    4. Form a social crisis team. A successful social strategy must cross the boundaries
      of department and hierarchy because consumers expect a seamless experience.
      Build a cross-functional team, including a social media manager, a product
      owner, and at least one executive sponsor. Draw up a social team charter to
      clarify roles and responsibilities and create an internal collaboration space
      for this team.
    5. Roll out a social crisis communications plan. Develop a playbook with guidelines
      for the social crisis team. Define an escalation process for potential PR
      issues. Build feedback into every step so you can adapt. Your plan needs to
      think through three areas – process and culture (what / who needs to
      change), technologies and tools (what to use to get there), and key metrics
      (what to track).

    I especially like this list because of step two, “create a new social
    mindset in your organization.” Far too many businesses create social media
    accounts and install fancy managing programs but neglect proper training and
    education, not only stifling possible gains but also creating the risk of improper
    use, which raises the chance of crisis even further.

    of Social Media for Disaster Response

    You Prepared For a Social Media Crisis?

    of Social Media for Disaster Response


    in Crisis

    Media in Emergencies

    to Start a Social Media Crisis

    Neglects Twitter in Crisis

    Crisis Planning

    Social Management
    Twitter Mistakes to Avoid
    Blogging for Crisis Management
    Getting Started with Social Media
    Crisis Communication via Twitter
    Fight Back with Social Media
    Putting Out Fires with Twitter
    Tech to the Rescue
    Rounding Up Rumors
    Disaster Management
    Emergency Twitter Tips
    FEMA and Social Media vs. Irene
    Define Your Goals for Social Media
    Twitter Underprepared for Censorship Backlash
    Social Media and You
    Social Media Crisis Management Strategies
    Social Media Preparedness
    of Taxpayer Money to Tweet?

    Flinging Mud with SEO
    Listening for a Crisis
    Social Media and Your Next Crisis
    ASUS Fails at Social Media
    Handling Negative Comments
    Social Media for Reputation Repair
    Outrage Trap: How You Get Turned into a Dupe by Political and Activist Groups

    Missed Opportunity is Another’s Brilliant PR

    When Deleting Social Media Comments is OK
    the Pooh on Social Media

    Examples of Organizations’ Successful — and Unsuccessful — Crisis Management

    One of the best ways to learn is from the mistakes of others. The following
    links are to many examples of crisis management done poorly.

    Gets Pranked

    Neglects Twitter in Crisis

    Business at the Better Business Bureau

    New Zealand Shows How to Fight Back

    Has a New Crisis

    Declared Dead too Soon

    Guys Lose with Google

    Bad Crisis Communications Hurts Electronics Manufacturer
    Most Hated Companies
    Twitter or the Web?
    Good Will

    Sheen — Misunderstandings about Addiction and Crisis

    Leadership in Japan

    Denies Make-A-Wish

    You Lie Down With Dogs

    (tm) Sub-Par Crisis Management

    Lessons from P&G
    Playstation Network Breach
    Southwest Gets It Right
    Zombies Attack
    Weiner Scandal
    Almost Good Crisis Management
    Delta Drops Fees, Learns Lesson
    E.coli Crisis
    Responsible Behavior
    Nikon Averts Facebook Crisis
    State Crisis Management — ESPN Interview with Jonathan Bernstein

    USAJobs Controversy
    BofA Gets Brandjacked
    Crisis Management

    Kansas Gov. Bungles Social Media Crisis Management
    Can Apologies Be Funny?
    Let Reputation Damage Become Disaster

    NY Times Pays for Errant Email
    Ryan Braun: Victim or Villain?
    Talk About Transparency!
    Citibank – A Grimm Fairy Tale
    Crisis Management During Hard Times
    Crisis Management from the Marine Corps
    Elicits Pain About Obama’s Public Speaking

    How To Say No Comment Without Saying No Comment
    More Military Crisis Management
    Army General Neil Tolley Opens Mouth, Inserts Combat Boot, Endangers Secret Ops
    – A Grimm Fairy Tale (update)

    Correcting a Customer Complaint Crisis
    How You Can Cause a Crisis by Giving Someone the Finger
    Is Siri Stalking You?
    $3 Billion Deceit

    Crisis Management Runs Flat

    SumoSalad Hepatitis A Disaster
    s Good Deed Goes Punished

    Crisis Management for Android in OS Wars
    GoDaddy Does Online Reputation Management
    Worried About Mass Shootings? Think Prevention
    Error Dings Aussie Red Cross’s Reputation

    FEMA Combats Sandy Rumors Online
    it’s OK to laugh, and when it’s not

    Quick Crisis Management from O2

    Also consider

    Violence in the Workplace

    in the Workplace

    Manager Newsletter and various information on crisis management

    For the Category of Crisis Management:

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