[Editor’s note: This compelling blog series comes to us from international crisis management expert and Bernstein Crisis team member Tim Scerba.]
When a Crisis Really Isn’t
In Aesop’s famous tale, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a shepherd boy convinces his neighbors that a ferocious wolf is attacking his flock of sheep. The townsfolk, after a few false alarms, catch-on. Later on, when a wolf actually does appear and the boy cries for help, his neighbors ignore his pleas and the wolf devours his sheep.
In today’s “everything is important, everything is urgent” world, we see this tale played out over and over again in corporate board and Crisis Management Team (CMT) war rooms across the country. At times, it seems as if we have gone from where companies consistently denied that they would ever be confronted with a crisis – let alone have to manage one – to where almost anything and everything is a full-blown crisis that warrants an equally full-on response.
The reality is that what constitutes a true crisis, versus a routine management issue, lies somewhere in between these extremes. At times, a situation really may be a bona fide crisis that requires CMT activation. And others, while perhaps sensitive or delicate, may only require an adept and measured response. The key is to make sure the response is commensurate with the true threat to a company’s reputation or license to operate.
This is not to say that a company should ignore the reality of a crisis and not be prepared to effectively manage situations that could negatively impact the company, its workforce, its community and its customers. On the contrary, it is critical to have everything ready to manage these situations so that they don’t take on a life of their own and, in so doing, become a larger crisis.
Knowing the difference between two different but related communications activities – managing a crisis versus controlling situations that could become a crisis if not managed correctly – is key to having an effective crisis preparedness plan. By understanding this difference, a company will better know how to dedicate its resources to neither over-respond nor under-respond to a situation. Not having to deal with a crisis that really isn’t one frees up corporate resources and reduces interruptions to its daily operations, both of which have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line.
Tim Scerba is a recognized international strategic corporate and marketing communications expert with extensive experience in all aspects of crisis and sensitive issues management, including risk audits, team preparation and simulation training, crisis inoculation and active situation management and recovery. His sector work includes aviation, food and beverage, construction, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and consumer products.
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