“It won’t happen to my business.”
I’ve heard this statement from countless business owners who are confident that their small scale shields them from the catastrophes that befall larger corporations and high-profile industries.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned during my many years providing crisis management training, it’s that crises are unpredictable and unbiased, and no one is immune.
The Immunity Myth
When, during a training session, one overconfident CEO expressed certainty that his business was exempt from a crisis, I asked him to explain his work. “We make food capsules for the space shuttle,” he revealed. And the room went silent. “What happens if the food spoils?” I asked. “What happens if the astronauts get food poisoning?”
His eyes got wide. “Oh, my god. You’re right.”
Crises are equal opportunity reputation ruiners
When you think about public relations crises, you probably picture infamous large-scale incidents like a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight or the CEO of Better.com dismissing hundreds of employees via a Zoom call.
While these crises certainly grabbed headlines due to the sheer size of the companies involved, you would be naive to assume that smaller businesses don’t face similar problems. Crises strike large and small companies alike with the potential to cause serious damage.
Take, for instance, the Boston-area health club where a beloved tennis instructor was falsely accused of inappropriate conduct. The accusation’s impact was further magnified by the accuser’s status as a well-known blogger. This painful incident not only damaged the reputation of the individual instructor but also the club’s, highlighting a pivotal truth:
Crises can occur at any scale, and the havoc they unleash is not limited by the size of the organization but by its preparedness.
Same Strategy, Different Scale
Crises differ in magnitude, but the strategies for navigating them remain largely unchanged. “Same strategy, different scale,” we say at Goodwin Consulting. Or, “Same playbook, different audience.”
Whether you’re managing the fallout from a disgruntled customer’s viral social media post or attempting to mitigate the complexities of a major data breach, the principles remain constant: acknowledge, empathize, define, and act.
Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail
Complacency isn’t just easy; it’s natural—especially when your business is running smoothly. However, the crux of crisis management lies in anticipation. When did you last challenge yourself to identify your biggest business fears? When did you last contemplate various scenarios that could derail your trajectory?
As humans, our instinct is to avoid questions surrounding mortality and tragedy. But these are precisely the topics you need to tackle if you expect to survive a crisis. Accidents occur, money gets mismanaged, machines malfunction, and people pass away unexpectedly. Crises come in all shapes and sizes. No matter how unlikely it is that a certain scenario will come to pass, proactive planning is imperative.
Think of crisis planning like a fire drill. Even if the probability of fire is extremely low, as long as the possibility remains, a well-practiced escape route can save lives.
Don’t go it alone; assemble a crisis team
I urge all businesses, regardless of size, to establish a crisis response team. For smaller organizations, this team could be an intimate board of trusted advisors or a selection of entrepreneur associates who agree to have each other’s backs. Larger corporations may contract with a specialized media relations firm for deep-dive planning and preparedness strategies.
Whatever your approach, stay focused on the goal of building a reliable crew to steer the ship during turbulent times.
Get ahead of the issue
When Goodwin Consulting client Health Imperatives received a Department of Public Health grant to provide medication abortion services, my team knew immediately that our client would face blowback. With activists planning protests and counter-protests, the organization’s primary concern was patient and staff safety, which guided our action plan.
After brainstorming every imaginable scenario, we pre-drafted statements, arranged additional security training for the staff, and ran preparedness drills. Preparing for a crisis that hasn’t even occurred can be stressful and even triggering. But the more you practice, the better prepared you’ll be when a crisis strikes.
Crisis Management, Step by Step
A good crisis plan should define your response goals, your audience engagement processes, and your action steps. Here’s the four-step crisis planning framework we use at our public relations agency:
- Acknowledge the situation
- Show empathy for those affected
- Clearly define the situation
- Commit to an action plan
Quick, confident communication will allow you to take ownership of the story and get accurate details on the record before outside sources begin filling in the gaps with their own ideas of what may have occurred.
Today’s businesses are recognizing their vulnerabilities like never before, and comprehensive crisis plans are taking the place of yesteryear’s “it won’t happen to us” attitudes. From simple 10-page outlines to extensive 150-page crisis communication guides, Goodwin Consulting is equipped to craft a plan that best protects your business from floundering in the midst of a crisis.
Let’s dispel the immunity myth once and for all. Crises happen everywhere, to anyone, and your company could be next. But with the right strategies in place, you’ll be ready.
Develop your own crisis management plan. Talk to our team.