Unlike risk management, which seeks to identify potential threats to an organization before they can happen, crisis management is the process that deals with the response to an actual threat. It’s important to have a crisis management plan in place ahead of potential disasters. It’s easier to control the narrative in the event of a crisis and regain control with a well-planned course of action.
Crisis management is arguably considered to be the single most important process in public relations.
Consider a well-known event in which a company failed to respond in a timely manner, thus creating a crisis management case study.
On March 24,1989, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, ran aground and dumped more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. This was the worst oil spill in United States history until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The Exxon Valdez oil slick covered more than a thousand miles of pristine coastline and killed more than 200,000 seabirds, seals, otters and killer whales as well as an untold number of fish, invertebrates and plants. It was later determined that the captain had been drinking at the time and had allowed an unlicensed crew member to steer the massive ship despite Bligh Reef being a well-known navigational hazard.
In the aftermath of the environmental disaster, Exxon’s reputation was bound to suffer regardless due to the long-term implications of such a disaster. However, Exxon’s slow response to this disaster created a public relations nightmare for the company and has become a textbook example of how not to handle a crisis, large or small.
With the entire world following the developments after the accident, the company was slow to respond to the incident and was also slow to control the flow of oil from the ship into the sea and contain the spread of the spill.
Did we mention that the ship’s captain had been accused of drinking?
But how Exxon responded afterward has heightened the criticism of the company, the nation’s third largest by sales, behind only General Motors and Ford. Many people predict that the entire oil industry will pay the price in the dashing of any hope of winning government permission to explore for oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. That possibility now seems much less likely in the near future, given the public outcry over the spill.
Exxon failed to follow several well-established protocols:
- Exxon’s top leadership did not go to Alaska and handle the situation. Instead, the leaders sent lower management. This would be akin to a governor sending one of his staff in the wake of a natural disaster, much less a man-made one. This was perceived by the public that Exxon was not concerned by the environmental disaster that the company had created.
- The company ultimately apologized for the accident but shirked its responsibility for the disaster.
- Statements made by the company often contradicted the information being shared by other sources.
- The company didn’t have a plan for updating global media outlets following the incident.
- It was nearly a week before top executives from Exxon responded to the disaster and it was almost three weeks before Exxon’s chairman ultimately made a trip to Alaska.
Exxon’s lack of response created a perception that the company wasn’t concerned about the disaster, the long-term environmental impact or the small communities in the region that depended on the waterways for their livelihood.
In contrast to Exxon’s response, another disaster in Bhopal, India five years earlier had a different company approach. When toxic gasses leaked from a Union Carbide plant resulting in the death of more than 3,000 people, the company’s CEO, Warren Anderson, was on site just days after the disaster.
To this day, there are still implications to that disaster. Killer whale pods from that area are still struggling to return to pre-disaster numbers. More than 3,000 sea otters died in the wake of the spill. A statement made by an Exxon spokesperson shortly after the spill stated that there would be minimal environmental damage.
The three essential steps to a crisis management scenario:
- Step 1 – Response
- Step 2 – Remedy
- Step 3 – Recovery
Not every potential threat has to be an environmental disaster like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
As a public relations professional, I was working with a client in which we knew there was a perceived threat.
A few years ago, I was working with a young adventurer on his quest to climb the Seven Summits. Together with his father and stepmother, he set out to climb the highest point on every continent. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa) at 10 years old, and Mount Everest (the world’s highest peak that is located in the Himalayas) at 13 years old and completed the quest at 15 years old, thus becoming the youngest person to complete the feat. A lot of controversy surrounded this as many critics felt that this was not safe.
However, Jordan Romero was not your average kid. He saw a mural at school of the Seven Summits and came home and talked to his dad and stepmom (both adventure athletes) about his dream. After lots of discussions, the planning and training began. Jordan would come home from school and would carry a loaded backpack and drag a tire behind him for miles each day.
Throughout his quest, there were critics who wanted to continue circling back to the risks. However, we developed a response plan and stuck to it with only myself and his father serving as spokespersons surrounding his climbs. Thankfully, on December 24, 2011, Jordan and his family reached the summit of his final mountain, and the world record remains intact.
Different scenarios necessitate different responses.
Being proactive during a crisis helps reduce the potential impact.
Having a crisis management plan means preparing for and managing any unplanned events that disrupt or affect your business, customers, revenue or your employees.
Managing the crisis is just part of the equation, albeit perhaps the most important part.
So, what is a crisis management plan?
Having a crisis management plan in place will allow your company to respond to any kind of threat and control the narrative during and post-crisis.
Six Steps For Creating A Crisis Management Plan
1. Identify every possible scenario or crisis.
2. Ascertain the impact that each of the above scenarios could have on your business.
3. Determine what actions would be required to resolve each crisis listed above.
4. Decide from the top down who will be involved in the process outlined for each scenario.
5. Describe how you would resolve each of the above crises.
6. Train anyone involved with the plan so that everyone knows their role in the event of a crisis.
This is just the beginning. It’s important to revisit your plan and update accordingly as scenarios and staff changes occur.
Does your company have a crisis management plan? Are you prepared for a crisis scenario? As a fully integrated marketing firm, TBA Outdoors can cover these bases — and lots more — for your brand. Reach out to our team of marketing professionals today to see how we can help your outdoor brand with its crisis management, public relations, marketing campaigns and more.