10 Key Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s Crisis Environment

A public relations crisis can happen to any company of any size at any time. Sometimes, they happen quickly, like a product failure or a personal scandal involving a top executive. Others build up slowly, like a growing customer service issue. Lately you can’t go online or turn on the TV without reading about a company’s or person’s public relations crisis unfolding.

A PR crisis can rattle even the most seasoned PR professionals. When a company is not prepared for an unexpected situation, it can spiral out of control quickly, with PR professionals scrambling to do damage control. While companies cannot always prevent a crisis from happening, it pays to be prepared and ready for action when the crisis hits.

Damage Control: The Essential Lessons of Crisis Management

Preparation can help turn a negative situation into a positive outcome. However, sometimes in a crisis, a “positive” outcome is not possible – but you can turn a negative outcome into something when the impact is minimized. And to do that, you need the skills to understand how to manage a crisis.

That reality is one of the key lessons conveyed by the book, Damage Control: The Essential Lessons of Crisis Management,” by authors Eric Dezenhall and John Weber, which turns some of the conventional crisis wisdom on its head.

The book provides a detailed overview on modern crisis management and presents real-life case studies and best practices for making “bad situations less bad” through preparation, messaging and crisis management strategies.

Keep Calm and Call the Crisis Team

The book touches on examples of crisis management strategies including media relations, dissuasion, offensive techniques, and knowing when to “execute a strategic retreat.”

And, while often much of the focus of crisis management is on PR, the book points out that while PR is an integral part of managing any crisis, crisis management goes beyond messaging and communication – and can include legal action, restitution, and more.

Successfully handling a crisis is about planning, quick thinking and strong leadership. And, the authors say that while no plan can anticipate all possible crisis scenarios, executives need to at least have an educated guess about what awaits them in the years ahead.

Prepare for These 10 Company Crisis Trends

In the book, the authors share 10 key trends shaping tomorrow’s crisis environment:

  1. Corporate mission creep: Companies of all sizes are committing to social, civic and environmental responsibilities and goals, outside of the day-to-day business. Crisis managers will need to learn to multitask across the sometimes-contradictory goals of the greater good vs. shareholder value.
  2. The demise of science: While “sound science” was rarely questioned in the past, the proliferation of “fake news” and pseudo-science have made consumers more discerning when it comes to believing studies and research in support of a product.
  3. Outspent and outgunned: In the past, large companies were able to buy their way out of a crisis. Now, many NGOs fighting against the large corporations are well funded and PR savvy, and able to launch large-scale campaigns to the turn public and media sentiment against the large corporations.
  4. Is junior covering your crisis?: As money and advertising continue to take precedence over public interest journalism in many newsrooms, reporting quality will suffer. Too few reporters, with little experience or training, doing little research and poor reporting will create an environment ripe for mischief, misrepresentation and malfeasance.
  5. Wall street war zone: Businesses are becoming more aware of the need to act more responsibly, and embracing environmental and social policies, so as to not alienate those invested in their companies.
  6. Everyone’s a pundit: While the mainstream media is still the main source of news for many people, news of any type is now crowd sourced from around the globe 24/7, increasing both the likelihood of an issue becoming a crisis, and the speed at which it does.
  7. Make ‘em laugh: Today, a large chunk of the American public gets their news from comedians. This trend will continue, providing a barometer of just how deep a corporate crisis has worked its way into the public consciousness.
  8. Your brand is a target: For large companies, a well-known brand can be both an asset and a liability, as anti-corporate campaigners will continue to promote their issues by associating it with a well-known brand. In the future, companies will need to couple promotional campaigns with brand-defense campaigns to mitigate these efforts.
  9. Protecting intellectual property: In today’s “open source” culture, businesses will be increasingly pressured to share their knowledge at a reduced return. Communications teams will need to know where to draw the distinction between altruism and protecting intellectual property.
  10. The porous corporation: Attacks from within a corporation can be equally as devastating as external attacks. Digital and social media has made it easier than ever for employees to share sensitive company documents with others.

No matter how big or well-regarded your business, chances are your company will face a PR crisis at some point.

At Zer0 to 5ive, we know the importance of crisis planning, and recommend to all PR clients that they put into place a crisis communications plan with a media response protocol and template messages. While we can’t be prepared for everything – we can at least have a plan of action should a crisis occur.

By Jennifer Moritz, Managing Principal