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Navigating a Crisis: Lessons From Past Crises

3 Mins read

No business leader wants to face a situation where they have to implement their crisis response plan, but if they don’t have a crisis response plan in the first place, they will be even worse off. Business leaders would be wise to learn from past crises and failed responses — not only by their own businesses, but also by other companies that suffered from high-profile blunders. 

There is one clear truth that reverberates across every industry and nearly every crisis: proper planning is paramount if one hopes to help their business emerge from the other side of a crisis. 

Any business leader knows that when they encounter a crisis, time is not on their side. Even businesses that are established and have a crisis response plan can find themselves flustered in the face of a major crisis — just look at what happened with Southwest Airlines in December 2022. Having a crisis response plan in place will help companies avoid getting flustered if and when a crisis comes up.

When and how to develop a crisis response plan

It’s vital to develop a crisis response plan early during your business’s life cycle, as it will often be too late to formulate a response when it happens. Although organizations obviously hope never to face a crisis, it’s always better to have a plan in place and not need it than to be caught off guard. Of course, it’s impossible to prepare for every difficulty that may arise, but companies should develop a generalized crisis response plan that can be quickly tailored to the unique needs of the situation.

Similarly, it’s essential to recognize the role that time — in its many forms — plays in the success of a crisis response. For example, companies don’t want to take too long to respond, as this could leave time for the seeds of doubt to grow. However, if a response is too quick, it could feel rushed and inauthentic. 

The same goes for the length of the response itself. Too long, and it will feel overwhelming, but too short, and it could come across as insincere. And most importantly, how long will it take for the organization to actually implement the changes they discuss in their crisis response? If it takes too long for the public to see real change, they will grow frustrated with the business.

Important aspects of a successful crisis response

The fundamental goal of any disaster response plan is to gain control over the narrative. Although no organization will have all the answers to their problems as soon as the crisis begins, it’s critical to stay on top of what you can answer to satiate the public’s doubts and second thoughts. For those things to which you do not have the answers, it’s better to acknowledge you are working on finding the answers than to make up something that can be found to be inaccurate later. 

One of the biggest things that a business must remember when approaching a crisis is to always be honest. Even if the truth isn’t pretty, it’s better to be honest and address it than attempt to cover it up and be found out later. Lying will only cause the crisis to spin even further out of control, and if a company is found to be lying, it could face an even more severe hit to its reputation than if it had simply owned up to its mistake in the first place.

Business leaders should also take care not to over-apologize. Just like it’s important not to say sorry when involved in a car accident — which can imply fault — the spokesperson of a business must not say sorry when dealing with a crisis response, as this can imply guilt and culpability. Instead, stay calm in the face of the crisis and know you have done nothing wrong. Spend less time focusing on what happened and more on how you will avoid these mistakes in the future.

Finally, it’s crucial that businesses show they actually learned from the crisis and do not make the same mistake twice. Although it’s easy for the public to “forgive and forget” most crises, considering the short attention span of the public and media, making the same mistakes over and over again implies that an organization is forming a habit of unreliability. Making repeated mistakes can be one of the quickest ways to hurt your reputation and public trust, rendering it virtually impossible for you to rebound from a crisis in the future. 

Navigating a disaster one of the scariest things a business leader will face at the helm of their organization, but with a proper crisis response plan, businesses can weather the storm more effectively. By taking key considerations into account, such as responding at the right time, truthfully, and authentically, businesses can gain control over the narrative.

Thomas Mustac is Otter PR‘s medical and health industry PR specialist. He previously held positions at the Dr. Oz Show and New York Medical College. He has his Master’s Degree from Iona College and received an Advanced Certification in Nonprofit Public Relations. He has a diverse background in healthcare, pharmaceutical, telehealth, tech, cosmetics, sports, and interior design public relations.

Crisis stock image by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

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