The Role of Story in Crisis Management

May 23rd, 2011

While crisis communication is something we’re always thinking about here at Braithwaite, the story of Arnold’s love child unfolding has brought it to the top of everyone’s minds.  We know that each crisis presents a unique set of challenges and requires very different applications, but the key fundamentals remain the same.

1. Validate Concerns: In times of crisis, perception is reality and whether your company is facing a recall or has experienced a security breach, the fears and anxiety of those affected are real.  Eric Dezenhall, Former White House Crisis Counsel, said it best:  “A corporation in crisis is not a corporation. It is a collection of panicked individuals motivated by self-preservation.”

Although defending feels right, it’s not the best move.  The first step is to resist defending or blaming and, instead, validate (without admitting guilt) the general concern of the incident.   For example, when BP’s rig exploded, their first move was to defend and blame.  Tony Hayward, famously defended BP in one of his first public statements:  “This was not our accident…this was not our rig. This was not our equipment. It was not our people, our systems, our processes. This was Transocean’s rig.”  Bad move.  Companies rarely win by defending and blaming others in the media.  Organizations must show compassion and understanding, while remaining focused on the crisis at hand.

2. Show Action: The second step is to go beyond mere words and show action.  The media and your stakeholders want to see tangible steps being taken to deal with the crisis.  These can include:  an independent investigation, revamping quality processes, voluntarily recalling questionable products or even firing or suspending the people in charge.  Your stakeholders must believe the company is doing everything within its power to find a solution and that their concerns are being taken into consideration.

3. Control the Narrative: Finally, you need to manage the story.  Every crisis, like every news story, contains all the elements of narrative:  characters, settings and rising and falling action. Controlling the flow and content of information is the only way to control the narrative.  To tell their story honestly and effectively, an organization must use these components.  This includes hour-by-hour monitoring and development of narrative “content” for traditional and new media.

By working with the media, rather than against them, a company can get in front of the story and minimize negative exposure.

Panic-stricken or cool, calm and collected: How do you control your own narrative in a crisis?

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Storytelling
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