Crying Wolf Pt. 2 – The Elements of a Crisis

Erik Bernstein crisis management


[Editor’s note: This compelling blog series comes to us from international crisis management expert and Bernstein Crisis team member Tim Scerba.]

The Elements of a Crisis

A key part of crisis preparedness and issues management planning is remembering that a crisis will only occur under very specific circumstances.  First, the various internal or external conditions that can result in a potential crisis situation have to be present and taking place in real time.  Second, three things have to simultaneously exisit for the situation to evolve – or devolve – into a true crisis requiring all the resources that a company can muster.

These three conditions are:

  • A Precipitating Event: These are the events, conditions or situations that can readily become a crisis. They include, but are not limited to, natural disasters, logistical and operational errors, consumer injuries or fatalities, union or executive actions, commercial sabotage, or political developments. All provoke worry, concern and strong emotions on the part of a company´s internal and external stakeholders as well as the general public. They also all tend to be of great interest – especially to the media, regulators, community leaders and the government.
  • Inside-out Communications Channels: For a communications crisis to occur, key stakeholders need to first know about it.  This happens through informal and formal communications on the part of of the company, its employees, its competitors, vendors and other actors that could try and use the situation to their own advantage.
  • External Actors that Fuel the Crisis:  Perhaps the difference between an “issue” and a “crisis” is how wide-reaching news and knowledge of the situations becomes beyond the initial universe of a company’s primary stakeholders.  Among the actors that can spread and amplify information perhaps the most important, influential and impactful are the mass communications media (both traditional and digital).  These include newspapers and television/radio news, as well as social media such as blogs and tweets.  In addition to being able to instantaneously spread the news globally, they also have the ability to add a negative POV to the situation as well as motivate other audiences to take actions against the company.

Did you miss Crying Wolf Pt. 1 – When a Crisis Really Isn’t? Click here.

Are you ready for Crying Wolf Pt. 3 – How To Prevent The Situation From Spiraling Into a Crisis? Click here.

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.