Grab Your ‘Lifeboat People’: 6 Steps to Defusing a Brand Crisis

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I once heard someone say, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It’s good advice personally, and it’s even better advice professionally. I’m not advocating looking for a crisis, of course, but the occasional sticky situation can provide a great opportunity to learn. It magnifies your strengths and exposes any areas that need improvement.

But for a crisis to be of any real value to you or your business, you must understand how to turn it around and come out the other side intact.

1.     Identify the cause.

In any critical situation, accurate information and immediacy are key. Round up all the people involved to find out exactly what’s happening. You want to understand the circumstances surrounding the situation so you can be not only reactive, but also on the attack as you search for a solution.

2.     Assemble a team.

When a crisis develops, I quickly bring together my “lifeboat people.” These are the folks I want as part of my brain trust; titles don’t matter. They’re problem solvers and dynamic thinkers. My guess is that you can identify at least eight people in your company who fit that description. Get them together in one room to help you handle the crisis.

3.     Appoint a voice.

From your “lifeboat people,” authorize one person to speak to the public about the crisis on behalf of your company. Choose someone who is skilled and fits the specific situation to see the issue through to its resolution.

4.     Be honest.

As uncomfortable or painful as it may be, always tell the truth. Make sure everyone authorized to handle the crisis — especially your spokesperson — knows to speak honestly on the topic the minute he or she knows it’s the truth. Any sort of distortion of the truth, even half-truths, can come back and destroy you in the end.

5.     Determine the resolution point.

This won’t necessarily “fix” the crisis, but the resolution point is how your company will resolve the crisis in a way that’s acceptable to the public. In every communication, publicly affirm the resolution point, timing, and progress made to get there.

6.     Find all perceptive reversals.

Perceptive reversals are best left in the hands of marketers and PR professionals. They understand how to shift the focus from the crisis to another aspect of the story. The ever-increasing pace of our news cycles means that quick reversals (good or bad) are inevitable, but redirecting public interest to other facts for consideration can speed up this process.

Crises are never simple, and they often take on lives of their own. Try as you might, you can’t always avoid them; instead, lean into them. When handled effectively, the damage can be limited, and in some instances, newfound respect for the brand or company can emerge.