Every organization, whether in the private or public sector, will one day face a crisis. The nature and severity of the crisis may vary—from a product recall to layoffs to a cyber-attack—and the crisis might be limited and specific, or it could be catastrophic and put the health of the entire organization at risk.
As Moses Naim argued in his book The End of Power, the issue is not that crises are necessarily more common, but that the pervasive nature of communications in the social and digital era ensures that when crises do occur, they are immediately communicated to a much broader range of audiences.
This fundamental reality about the modern world is at the core of how I see our business and profession. More specifically, I believe it allows us to divide the vast majority of our work into two broad categories: Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis Communications.
I often use an analogy to describe the communications services we can provide our clients: We can help develop a preventative ‘vitamin’ plan to strengthen the health of their brand, to better withstand crises, as well as help develop a responsive ‘prescription drug’ plan to be used in the immediate aftermath of a crisis to preserve or restore the health of their brand.
As in the case of an individual person’s health, an organization should have both. They should always take care of their brand well before a crisis hits, so that they are better able to withstand the sudden, unexpected impact of a potentially debilitating crisis. The ‘vitamin’ plan is something that should be done in consultation with others, and is the perfect opportunity for co-creation.
The drug plan is, of course, harder. Because we never know the exact type of health crisis a person or corporate brand may face, the key is diagnosing the problem and then quickly moving to develop the best possible course of treatment to address it. Co-creation may help establish some broad parameters in advance, but in the urgency of the moment you may not have time to get a second opinion.
Professional experts in the field of communications, like those in medical science, cannot guarantee that you will never face a crisis—only that you can be stronger and recover quickly when you do. If we accept that crises are a fact of life, instead of acting as though we’re invincible, we can better plan for the future.