CommCore Consulting Group
sports world is a long way from the romantic view espoused by
Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger: "The sports page
records people's accomplishments; the front page usually records
nothing but man's failures."
the sports pages record more accomplishments than failures. But
from Tiger Woods, to Title IX law suits, to scholar/athlete
kleptomaniacs and coaches with their peccadilloes, the sports
world has had its share of crises in the past few years.
Back to the
front pages: 2010 will go down as a bumper crop year for crisis
communications. As each crisis unfolded, there were multiple
references to other crises that were handled poorly or well.
Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol poisonings in 1982 is
considered the best-in-class response of modern crisis
management, and then BP, Tiger Woods and Toyota in 2009-10
provide perhaps better lessons for three decades of crisis
preparation and response.
stands for best-in-class company values, decision making, brand
management and recovery. BP, Tiger and Toyota represent examples
of the gravest risk of brand implosion, failure to anticipate
calamities, and the media piling-on effect.
ones” are “teaching moments” for any professional sports team,
athletic department or even local high school sports
organization to understand reputation management, crisis
anticipation, response and recovery.
from current crises, and avoid or respond better to the next
one, we need to explore:
• The Three
Stages of a Crisis
• The Power of Checklists, and
• How the Internet changes everything
preparation and management requires a broader perspective than
just a set of tips and tactics. Every organization should
proactively develop a Reputation Protection Model — RPM©. RPM
is a methodology that goes beyond preparation and response; it
adds a lens that views crisis preparation as an investment in an
organization’s long term reputation in the eyes of its most
management won’t necessarily prevent an incident, and it can’t
stop a law suit, but reputation investments and management can
shorten the duration of a crisis and may change the eventual
outcomes and perceptions of an organization.
THE THREE STAGES OF CRISIS:
establish: What is a crisis? How does it differ from the
day-to-day emergencies we face in our business, government or
organizations, and have learned how to handle?
generally fall into two categories: those in which life and
property are at immediate risk from disasters such as accidents,
earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, or explosions; and those in
which a business, university, organization or individual has its
brand or public standing at stake from criminal or civil
charges, allegations of negligence or wrong doing, product
defects, or social media rumors and innuendo.
A crisis is
an event that is a game changer. It’s the emergency that
escalates to a business disruption, a fatal or serious injury
from a product, employee deception or fraud, a factory that
explodes. Most often an emergency becomes a crisis through
public exposure via the traditional media and/or social media.
an important difference between Tylenol and almost all other
crises — it’s the issue of contributory negligence. Tylenol,
(SARS and 9/11 may be included as well) is one of the precious
few crises in which the organization involved had virtually no
responsibility for the unfortunate events.
Johnson & Johnson Tylenol case, the company was just minding its
business when someone put poison into the bottles. No sports
team wants an athlete to get in trouble. No stadium wants to
disappoint its fans. But there is always some responsibility for
what went wrong.
So given the
fact that human beings will make big mistakes, it’s important to
know the three stages of crises:
• BSH —
Before the Crisis, aka Before Stuff Happens
• HBL — During the Crisis, aka Hell Breaks Loose
• RRR — After the Crisis, aka Repair Reassess Reputation
The BSH time
is the time to prepare: Appoint the crisis team, monitor your
potential issues, set aside resources and physical assets for a
war room to guide crisis response, develop phone and email
contact lists, ask questions about possible doomsday events, run
simulations and repeat the process, on an as needed basis.
reason why athletic teams have training and the same reason
applies in crisis preparation. Crisis simulations are not just
fire drills, or stress testing also requires a level of candor
and openness to discuss the worst case scenarios. Whether we
call it preventive medicine or anticipation, BSH can
occasionally help prevent a crisis. The upfront BSH can help bad
news from becoming worse.
HBL is the
crux of the crisis maelstrom — and is driven by what appear to
be mutually contradictory concepts — calm and speed. HBL works
best with a tested crisis plan in place, strong antennae to
gather information, rapid response capabilities and effective
A crisis is
no longer a linear event with sequential deadlines over a 12 or
24-hour traditional news cycle. In today’s 24/7 Internet world,
a crisis spreads across multiple time zones and communications
platforms before you know about it.
first 1 to 2 hours of a crisis, the team needs to assemble and
gain an initial read of facts, causes and possible
responses. Medical Emergency Response personnel use the term,
“the golden hour,” for the period of rapid response in a trauma
Hour doesn’t mean that success or failure in treating a patient
will be determined only in the first five minutes. Until one
gets a sense of the vital signs — whether it’s pulse,
temperature and blood pressure, or extent of damage to people or
operations in a business or organization — it’s difficult to
decide on the most effective response.
the crisis can be heightened by immediate media involvement with
either camera crews broadcasting or tweeters and bloggers
During HBL, it’s essential to have a War Room — a central place
for the crisis team.
doesn’t matter whether it’s a physical location or a virtual
room, or a hybrid. The important aspect is that the location is
for information sharing and critical discussions either on white
boards, flip charts or computer screens.
involved should have access to the information in real time. The
sharing aspect often helps people see patterns and connect
threads of data to make informed decisions, and create messages
and communications plans.
really big crisis, such as Toyota, BP or GM bankruptcy,
organizations might set up parallel operations and
communications war rooms. A good war room runs 24/7. It has all
the necessary monitoring and communicating devices. And
communicators must be in close proximity to executive leadership
and operations and security personnel.
experts are scattered in different locations, we advocate at
least one physical room, where key crisis team members and
senior executives can come in, get a quick snapshot of the
information that is known, and talk face-to-face while gauging
the temperature of the situation and the effectiveness of the
A word of
warning: don’t allow access to too many people; much of the
information during a crisis is sensitive and can easily spread
or be misinterpreted, and unnecessary voices can lead to a lack
Transition from HBL to RRR can be as short as a few hours or
BP spill is an unfortunate example of inordinate time from
inception of the crisis to transition to RRR.
Repair, Reassess, Reputation — is the most overlooked step and
perhaps the most important part of the RPM. It’s human nature
that once the immediate danger has passed, to revert to business
focused period of time to fix the problems that caused the
crisis and developing systems and procedures to prevent a future
occurrence is a value investment.
If a faulty
process caused cross contamination of foods on an assembly line,
it’s worth the time to correct the problem permanently, and not
put on a temporary band aid. If the crisis caused damage to a
firm’s reputation, then it’s time to figure out the next steps
Is it public
and overt acts to let key stakeholders know your corrections? Is
it the time to develop new drills or procedures? Is it meetings
with legislators and regulators that demonstrate a fix and
commitment to do better?
Reputation Protection Model RPM © is the lens that impacts all
aspects of crisis preparation and response. Besides tactical
preparation, RPM involves all the day-to-day goodwill that an
In the old
days, companies and organizations just concerned themselves with
running efficiently. Now it means proactively building and
maintaining key relationships — letting others know about your
plans, your community service programs, safety record,
charitable efforts, awards for Best Places to Work.
All of these
efforts build credibility among media, customers and
RPM during the crisis may take a back seat to the tactical
measures of getting a situation under control. The BP ads
featuring local Gulf Coast claims adjusters, however, is an
example of RPM actions that the company hopes will outlast the
actual fix of the leak.
following a crisis is about restoring faith and trust in the
organization. It can be a long and lengthy process and requires
investment of people and capital.
THE POWER OF CHECKLISTS:
Checklist Manifesto, the recent book by Atul Gawande, a Harvard
surgeon and a writer for The New Yorker, adds a blocking and
tackling component to crisis planning and response.
foremost concerned with medicine and how checklists help doctors
and other healthcare workers to pay attention to details, commit
fewer errors and improve outcomes.
the medical community, Gawande cites examples from the
construction industry and aircraft design, as well as flying to
prove that checklists work. Although surgeons dislike the
thought of something as basic as a checklist, when implemented
and followed, the proof is in the results.
also empower more members of a surgical team to raise issues
In preparing, start with an industry checklist for the most
frequent types of crises. Is it a leak or spill, an explosion,
unionization issues, supplier problems, regulatory or IT issues?
On the checklist, leave room in each category for Other.
(See the Mirror Principle below.)
changes everything, from how a crisis starts, to Internet-only
crises, to how to manage through the Internet, and the perils
and upsides of Twitter, blogs and whatever comes next. The
internet basically means that we’re forever globally wired 24/7,
There is no
hiding, no escaping; everything is instant, searchable and
scalable. In addition, the Internet creates whole new types of
crises — viral rumor mills, hacking, IT breakdowns. Suffice it
to say, much like we recommend an RPM lens on crisis planning
and response, all organizations should have a Web lens for
planning, response and recovery.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR:
utilize the Mirror Principle. Toyota, Tiger and BP and other
recent crises all have a unique set of facts and
circumstances. What happens at one university will never be
exactly the same at another institution.
Principle states that an organization must hold up the looking
glass to its own issues and culture. For example, at one
consumer goods company with a low-profile CEO and few operations
in high risk countries, kidnap insurance is not a big issue; at
a competitor with a high profile CEO and a global footprint,
this type of policy is definitely a priority.
Bottom Line: Learn lessons from others, use the
current bumper crop of unfortunate events to look at risks,
review or create crisis plans and consider the reputation
aspects of any short or long term public crisis.
Andrew D. Gilman is president and CEO of
Consulting Group based in Washington, DC. A reporter and
lawyer, Gilman has advised on some of the critical crises of our
time from Tylenol, to assisting the government of Canada during
SARS, to working with law firms and clients during litigation.
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