When I was growing up in Indiana, one of my friends and neighbors was a boy named Billy. We were both around ten years old at the time. One day Billy was playing with matches in his bedroom and set the curtains on fire. He tried putting the fire out, but its flames quickly spread. Billy was so overwhelmed by the situation that he walked out of his room, closed the door and started watching TV in the living room.
For a few minutes, he didn’t have to deal with the awful reality of what he had done, and he was able to go about life as usual.
However, it wasn’t long before the entire house was engulfed in flames. Fortunately he and his family escaped, but the house burned to the ground.
When I tell that story, people usually are amazed at such irresponsible behavior, and rightfully so. Yet, I find that many companies with intelligent, well-educated leaders often take the same approach to dealing with a crisis in their organization.
Rather than face reality, they try to ignore the crisis or put a lid on it.
More often than not, the crisis grows and becomes consuming, and in the process devours valuable time and resources. Sometimes the organization’s reputation is severely harmed, and out of the ashes investigations suddenly appear.
The pity is that engaging the crisis in its early stages would have made it more manageable and less damaging.
As Henry Kissinger once said, “A problem ignored is a crisis invited.”
One of the most important things an ad agency can do in a crisis situation is help its client see the reality of the situation and what needs to be done.
The agency also needs to help the client keep the situation in perspective and focus on the long term.
It’s easy to panic and develop a siege mentality when an organization in crisis is under intense scrutiny from the outside, but that only makes matters worse.
Properly managing the crisis is vital, because facts alone don’t win in the court of public opinion—perceptions do.
One of the best ways to help you and your clients maintain control and minimize damage when a crisis strikes is to have a flexible crisis management plan in place.
An effective crisis plan:
- Contemplates the types of crises that could occur
- Sets forth policies to deal with them
- Identifies audiences
- Has a pre-selected crisis management team in place
- Establishes ways to communicate accurate information quickly and effectively
If your agency or your clients don’t have a written crisis plan, now is a great time to create one. If you have plan, be sure it is updated regularly.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.