How to successfully launch a crisis in three easy steps

There are thousands of for-profit and non-profit organizations in America and I am confident none of them list “create a crisis” among their business objectives. However, many of them manage it without much effort. And to their chagrin, they find they’re quite good at it.

Crisis communications management

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You read that correctly. Everyday organizations – more specifically executive leaders – make decisions that take their organizations from normal operations to headline news at the speed of a Tweet (and leave corporate communicators in shocked disbelief!). It isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are three ways to successfully launch a crisis.

1. Make decisions that fundamentally compromises organizational vision, mission and/or values.

At some point a group of people were told to create the perfect organizational vision and mission statements. Supposedly these statements are born from organizational values. However, crises are practically guarenteed when the vision and mission are not the benchmarks against which organizational decisions are made. It creates a condition I call “Organizational Schizophrenia.” It leaves the true personality of the organization in doubt. Employees, constituents and customers become confused, feel betrayed and the credibility of the organization is undermined.

2. Make organization-altering decisions with no intent of making them public.

Executive leaders do this all the time, and get burned for it all the time. No, I’m not saying organizations should issue a news release every time leaders make decisions, but how often do executive leaders try to slip something past employees, customers, the public and the media? “Nobody will notice,” is often the thinking, or “We’re paid to make decision, not follow public opinion.” Fair, but often the problem is perception: If somebody feels as if an organization is trying to slip something by them then it is difficult to convince them otherwise. Worse, the attempt to convince only makes it appear as if now there is now a cover up. People then believe the only reason executives are trying to explain themselves is because they got caught. Question for leaders: In the age of social media did ya really think your decision was going to stay quiet?

3. Assume you control the brand. 

Here’s a deadly mixture: Do one or both of the two above and still assume the organization can control what people think of the brand. The best control any organization ever has over its brand is when it does what it says it will do and treats its customers well. That’s it. Integrity and service – regardless of the industry – either strengthens people’s perception of the brand, or the lack of either threatens to turn your brand into a punchline. Don’t believe me? Digest this: your organization is one viral Tweet or YouTube video away from igniting a social media firestorm that could destroy in one afternoon decades worth of brand equity. I wouldn’t call that controlling your brand.

In this post- Enron, Tyco, WorldComm, HealthSouth, junk bond era of corporate scandal, organizations should assume their constituents harbor a certain level of distrust. Feeding that distrust by compromising values, making shady looking decisions and assuming there will be no consequence successfully invites and launches crises, and potentially kills a brand.


I write...a lot, and use social and traditional media strategies to help people and organizations communicate better.

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