Preparing For Crisis Within The Evolving Media Landscape, Part I

“Marketplace behavior is governed by only two factors, our perceptions of the products or services in question and our perceptions of the enterprise behind them.” – Anthony Johndrow, Reputation Institute

If an organization hasn’t experienced a crisis or had to manage an issue, it may be harder for it to think about being prepared. When everything is perfectly status quo, who wants to think about worst-case scenarios? This is the time, however, when all organizations should plan for an immediate, cross-channel response.

Poised for action is better than unprepared reaction. This is especially the case now that organizations have an 82% chance of facing a crisis situation within any five-year period. That’s 20% higher than two decades ago, according to a story by The Economist about research conducted by Oxford Metrica. This significant jump is undoubtedly connected to the evolving media landscape. Now that everyone is capable of being his or her own publisher of news and opinion, an issue can become public and more difficult to control in seconds. There’s simply too much at stake to not be prepared.



One incident can be a forceful catalyst that causes a negative reaction, affecting reputation, sales, and an organization’s place within an industry. Take the Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) issue for example. ABC’s “pink slime” coverage cost BPI 80% of its business in 28 days, according to a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit the company subsequently filed. It lost major quick service restaurant and retail customers, causing it to close three out of four plants and cut 700 jobs. The impact was felt across the industry as consumer confidence in the quality of beef declined as the story went viral in social media.

Every issue can be managed, however. When an organization is poised to respond, it can turn interactions with clients, employees, media and the public into an opportunity. Taco Bell’s “Thank you for suing us” campaign is an example of that type of preparedness. 

When Taco Bell was hit with a class action lawsuit claiming its taco filling wasn’t all beef, the company purchased full-page ads in newspapers across the country. The ads featured a letter from Taco Bell president Greg Creed with the headline “Thank you for suing us” and information about the company’s seasoned beef. Creed actively participated in interviews, using the media as megaphone to share the company’s counter message points. An issue that could have spiraled was quickly controlled by Taco Bell with no significant drop in sales.

 So how can companies be prepared?

  1. Create an accessible communications plan.
  2. Test the system.

Create an accessible plan. Organizations need more than a plan on paper. Ten years ago, a crisis team would be equipped with a big red binder containing its plan and messaging. This document would live in executives’ offices waiting to be used. That concept evolved after organizations started to understand that all employees, in some capacity, would have to address an issue and need access to these assets. Companies started to transfer binder documents to flash-drive “crisis cards” and share this resource with all employees. These assets have evolved even more and organizations now want these materials at their fingertips.

Out of 270 companies surveyed, more than half rate mobile technologies as absolutely vital for carrying out crisis plans; 42% use mobile applications that make business continuity and crisis communications plans available on mobile devices, according to a study by Continuity Insights.

Mobile crisis sites can help provide:

  • Access to critical elements of crisis plans to achieve faster, more efficient communication among key stakeholders.
  • Immediate access to information and faster response times for incident reporting.
  • The ability for documents and information to be updated in real time.

These sites can be password protected and elements can include the critical components of a crisis plan:

  • Contact directories;
  • Key messages;
  • Company information;
  • Policies;
  • Position statements and more.

Test the system. In addition to evolving the suite of materials and housing them in new accessible formats, it’s critical to give employees a better understanding of their roles during times of crisis or enterprise-wide issues. In Part II, we’ll share some best practices for training programs on everything from how to develop and deliver effective messages to communication processes that are applicable for both B-to-B and B-to-C companies.

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