News & Insights

Top 5 mistakes in a crisis

Kel Watt – Director

The stress of managing a crisis is an age-old problem, but the 24-hour news cycle and impact of social media has made it more challenging than ever.

It’s relatively common to see large organisations with multi-million dollar brands making basic mistakes in managing their public profile. Our experience shows that by the time we are called in to help, emotion and errors in judgement have led to some of these frequent missteps:

1. The cover-up

A company tries to resolve a problem in-house but doesn’t plan for if or when it goes public. A public crisis means there is now pressure to explain the lack of transparency as well as how things got out of hand. Suddenly, there are two problems!

They’ve also missed an opportunity to address the root cause of the problem.

The conclusion is that they can’t be relied on to run their business and they can’t be trusted to fix things properly.

2. The confused story

The first 24 to 48 hours of a crisis are absolutely crucial. This is the critical time to seize the narrative and shape the response.

All too often, inexperience or emotion results in:

  • Contradictory statements
  • Mishandled interviews that prolong negative media coverage
  • A refusal to respond to the media that creates a vacuum for others to fill.

3. The ‘almost’ truth

It’s rare that someone tries to deliberately and completely deceive the public in a crisis. That creates an almost insurmountable problem.

However, it’s also incredibly damaging to be caught “spinning” your way out by obfuscating key details or trying to shift blame.

Your image is now ‘tricky and inauthentic’, giving journalists more angles to pursue – AND you've lost the confidence of members, clients or supporters.

Our approach is always: Be honest. Be sincere. Be consistent.

4. The indecision

A crisis naturally makes people emotional, defensive and irrational. This often leads to poor decisions.

Curiously, it’s often people in leadership positions who show the most indecision. It can be difficult to work out what direction to take, particularly with incomplete information in a high-pressure situation.

5. The uncertainty

In the middle of a crisis it can be difficult to work out what your endgame is. Inexperience in media management results in unrealistic expectations about resolving a negative news cycle. Prolonged negative media coverage occurs if you don’t have a clear plan.

So how do we avoid these mistakes?

The most important decision to make early in a crisis is knowing who to ask for help. I started Watt Advocacy & Communications to help people and organisations avoid these exact situations.

We have helped clients to take control of negative national media coverage, repairing damage to their reputation and brand. We can also proactively assess your current crisis management approach so you can avoid mistakes before they occur.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you in a crisis.