Crisis Management 101 Gone Bad

The New York Times ran an interesting piece this past weekend (“In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do”) on what can be learned by crisis management mistakes made by such industry-leading companies as BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past several years about how crisis management has changed, particularly with social networks providing a much bigger stage for issues to catch instant fire. We saw this play out most recently with JetBlue, a topic my colleague Rob Goodman discussed earlier this week.

While the need for greater speed, broader engagement strategies and approach to the tone of messaging are a clear change (and in some cases such as JetBlue, what business decisions should be made), it struck me that many of the fundamentals of crisis management have and will always remain the same. And yet, companies still seem to fail at these basics:

1)      Put those who are impacted first. Having managed several crises in my career, I’ve seen the initial defensiveness and temptation to shift blame set right out of the gate.  All the while those who have been or could be impacted get lost. First things first- make sure you’ve expressed sincere concern, start taking immediate action and let the public know what they need to do. Unfolding how things happened and where fingers should be pointed can wait.

2)      Never blame the customer. The NYT piece provides some great examples of how this has backfired, particularly when Audi blamed customers for acceleration issues that led to hundreds of crashes in the 1980s. Even if true, better to explain how to avoid a crash than blatantly say it’s the customers fault.

3)      Know your full situation before making bold claims. In the case of Toyota, they clearly didn’t have a clear perspective on what was causing their acceleration issues, but still moved forward with offering explanations. The problem: turns out their explanations weren’t entirely true, and they were further exposed when the full story was revealed. Better to say you are still evaluating the issue than offer up or provide the wrong answer.

4)      Never lie. This one goes without explanation. One hundred percent guaranteed you’ll get caught. It amazes me that companies (and people) still think they’ll get away with it. Bill Clinton? Steroid users in baseball? Just a few examples.

5)      Have a crisis plan in place. For many companies, crisis is inevitable. Having at least the basics in place for when that time hits is imperative, and yet, so many are left in a scramble because they were in a state of denial. This is a guaranteed recipe for a double crisis- the one at hand, and the one with PR teams, executives and lawyers wasting precious hours trying to figure out what to do.

It amazes me that such established and sophisticated brands outlined in this article missed the boat on these fundamentals which have remained true for eons. I can see not understanding how to implement social media into the strategy, but making claims before you know the full truth? Ouch.

What other companies do you think botched the basics? Which companies do you think have handled a crisis situation wisely?


Author: Editor