• David Johnson

Knock, Knock! It’s me, C-R-I-S-I-S

Marriott’s reservation system has been hacked, potentially exposing approximately 500 million guests.

Put yourself in Marriott’s CEO Arne Sanderson’s shoes.

"We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves. We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward."

Are you prepared for your crisis?

If you think you’re immune, think again.

Even if you don’t do anything wrong, all it takes is one mistake or allegation to seriously tarnish your organization’s reputation and waste tons of time and money trying to right the ship.

It’s said that when a crisis strikes, organizations have probably 1 hour to show that they have control.

If you haven’t prepared for the various events or issues that could send your business or organization into a tailspin, you will miss the chance to make that all-important first impression.

The most challenging part of managing a crisis is reacting with the appropriate response quickly.

According to crisis communication guru, Gerald Baron, “A slow message is almost invariably a too little, too late message.”

Here are three questions you should ask yourself before a C-R-I-S-I-S is knocking at your door.

Do you have a crisis communication plan?

While every crisis has its own uniqueness, and there are patterns that you can anticipate and be ready to respond.

Your crisis communication plan serves as a template, and should be fully integrated into your organization’s overall emergency response plan.

It focuses your approach and keeps you on track as you navigate the phases of a crisis.

Let me emphasize template because you might be drawn to putting every detail or reference in your plan.

WARNING! Don’t do it.

Also, don’t develop the plan by yourself. Use a committee of experienced communicators to help you create it.

Here are some elements to consider in your crisis communication plan:

  • Communication team members including their position, roles, responsibilities, email addresses, and work, home and mobile phone numbers.

  • Media response procedures such as handling incoming media calls and answering queries.

  • Communication channels and platforms you will use.

  • Spokesperson and subject matter experts. Don’t forget a backup spokesperson.

  • Key customers, partners, and stakeholders to notify.

  • Contact information for regional and local media outlets and reporters.

  • Approved holding statements and news release templates. I recommend getting legal to review and clear them in advance of a crisis.

  • Process for clearance and release of products such as news releases and social media posts.

Speed is an essential ingredient of effective crisis communication.

If you’re caught without a plan when the media spotlight is pointing right at you, NOW is not the time to try and figure out what to do.

Here is one last piece of advice to consider. When your crisis communication plan is done, make sure you exercise it. Don’t file it away and forget about it.

Who is on the team?

Emergencies are crazy and chaotic. When they strike, you don’t have time trying to figure out who should be on the team and what role they should play.

You should already have a pre-determined crisis communication team roster with the necessary skill sets in place. The members should all be knowledgeable of their roles and responsibilities.

It’s worth repeating. A plan is no good if you don’t exercise it. The same is true for your team.

It’s not a bad idea to routinely conduct a rehearsal such as a table-top exercise where all the members of your communication team participate.

Rehearsals are beneficial because they provide an opportunity for the members of the team to know how to do their job. They also identify gaps and weaknesses.

Rehearsals should allow members to make mistakes without consequences.

The more rapidly you can activate your team, the sooner you can begin to coordinate your actions.

A communication team might consist of the following functions:

  • Lead Public Information Officer (PIO) or Director of Communication

  • Assistant PIO

  • Media management

  • Social media management

  • Website support

  • Internal communication

  • Community relations

  • Spokesperson

Who is your spokesperson?

The most important person responding to a crisis in the initial hour is your spokesperson. Depending on your organization, this could be your PIO.

This person should be a skilled communicator, and one who has experience as a crisis spokesperson.

Your spokesperson is the face of the organization and should be someone who can convey confidence and credibility.

A mistake that many organizations make is that they assume the spokesperson should always be the highest-ranking official in the organization. This is not always the case.

Having more than one spokesperson cannot be overlooked. Murphy’s Law is always present.

I was involved in a crisis response and the primary spokesperson became ill after the first day. Luckily, the organization had a backup.

Another thing to consider is that most crises last days and sometimes weeks, having a backup spokesperson is a good idea.

Besides having a dedicated spokesperson, you should develop a list of subject matter experts who are trained to speak to the media.

The same rules apply to your subject matter experts; they too must embody the same qualities as your spokesperson.

Normally, when a crisis hits, your spokesperson should speak during the initial hours, but as the crisis matures, subject matter experts could assume this role.

Failing to prepare is a recipe for disaster. When a crisis hits, time is in very short supply.

So, to avoid stumbling out of the gates, make sure you have a plan, know who is on your team, and choose the right person to be your spokesperson.

#prinapinch; #crisiscommunication; #riskcommunication; #publicrelations; #strategiccommunication


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