Raise Your Crisis IQ

The most effective way to gain proficiency in crisis management is to actually live through a few reputational storms. But hoping for bad things to happen just so you can gain crisis experience is not a good idea. Going to school on other people’s crises is a much better option. Here are 10 activities related to the material in The Crisis Preparedness Quotient — Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm that can help students, public relations practitioners, risk managers, senior executives and corporate directors build understanding and preparedness without using live ammunition:

  • In the first section of the book, we review what I believe are the most common sources of reputational crises: people, products, priorities, policies, performance, politics, procrastination, privacy and past. Thinking back over recent corporate crises making headlines, assess the root causes of these storms. See if you can identify crisis situations caused by each of the nine “Ps” above. Can you point to a crisis driven by multiple sources?
  • Reporters like to proclaim villains and victims in their stories. As more facts come to light, the main characters in a news event may move from one role to the other. Review the media coverage of a recent crisis, listing the characters that fall into the villain and victim categories. Explain why they earned their labels. Do you agree with the media’s characterizations?
  • When reporters jump into a crisis situation, they look for answers to three threshold questions: What did you know? When did you know it? and What did you do about it? Bad answers land you in the villain category. Identify and analyze a recent high-profile crisis involving a company that suffered reputational harm because they had knowledge of a problem and failed to act in a timely manner. What would you have done differently?
  • The most effective crisis response statements communicate regret, reform, restitution, reaffirmation and recovery. With these elements in mind, select a recent crisis and search online for the company’s or individual’s initial responses. See how many of the five “Rs” are included. Draft your own statement, improving upon the original.
  • When facing charges and challenges, companies must decide among three response modes: Hold your fire; We didn’t do it; or Okay, we did it. Identify recent crises that demonstrate utilization of each of the three modes. Asses the effectiveness of the companies’ or individuals’ response messaging.
  • In addressing the tone, tactics and timeliness of crisis response, we discuss the importance of the seven “Fs”: fast, factual, focus, feeling, forum, feedback and flexibility. Surveying recent crises of special note, select an example that highlights the use or absence of these critical response characteristics. What did they get right? What did they get wrong?
  • We focus in the book on the importance of embracing first principles in developing the most effective responses to crises. Adopting the hierarchy of people, property, products and profit helps direct your actions in a storm. Search online for the initial statements made by companies or individuals dealing with reputational threats. Grade them on how well they express the first principles guiding their response.
  • Chances are, you’ll have to deal with employee terminations at some point in your career. Hopefully, you’ll be the terminator more often than the terminated. When executing and communicating “executive transitions,” it pays to follow the principles of dignity, dollars and destiny. Formulating a mock termination scenario, draft an announcement incorporating the three “Ds.” Search online for actual announcements regarding high-profile leaders. Assess their effectiveness.
  • In most cases, performance is the best or only path to recovery from a reputational storm. Identify companies or individuals that have successfully recovered from failure, scandal or shame by getting back to work and performing at their best. See if you can find examples of those who never won back their reputations. Can you explain why?
  • In the book we meet many interesting people from the worlds of public relations and crisis management. Space does not allow a thorough examination of their contributions and careers. Go online to learn more about these historic individuals. For starters, see what more you can find out about Ivy Lee, Herb Schmertz or Lawrence Foster. What contributions did they make to the practice of effective, responsible crisis response?
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