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How to Avoid a Knee-Jerk Crisis Response

By Sherri Kolade for Ragan

Consumers across the board are not shy about letting brands know where they mucked up – and communicators, for the most part, are interested in responding to crises as they come as well.

According to the 2nd Annual HarrisX & Ragan CEO/Communicators Perceptions Survey, published last October, about three in five CEOs and communications professionals “believe organizations should generally take a stand on issues of public interest.” 

The survey adds that 58% of comms leaders said that organizations should take a stand on public issues; 42% said orgs should avoid taking positions. 

While brands grabbing a rhetorical bullhorn and publicly making a stand on public-interest issues – ranging from LGBTQ+ and voting rights –can be a fan favorite – there are times when strategic silence is the best route.  

A virtual Ragan Training Public Affairs & Speechwriting Conference on the topic of“Communicating Trust Through Chaos: Moving from Panic to Power in Any Crisis” discussed striking while the iron’s hot and holding off.

Don’t spread yourself too thin 

Responding to every crisis just for the sake of responding is a recipe for disaster and coming across as disingenuous. 

Adam Pratt, director of Issues and Policy Communications at IBM, said that if there is an issue that stakeholders are passionate about, the comms department has to “look at it through the broader lens of a company.” At a large organization like IBM, which is spread across 170 countries with 240,000 employees, strategy is key and picking your battles is key.

“We can’t spread the peanut butter action too thin or else we’re not making a difference anywhere,” Pratt said.

Panelist Dave Fleet, head of Global Digital Crisis, Edelman, talked about how even if crisis comms experts want to respond, some don’t have the capability as not every business is equipped to handle such issues.

Fleet shared a 2022 Edelman study, “Connected Crisis: In search of stability amidst chaos,” which detailed key findings around crisis management as the fastest-growing area of responsibility for company heads today.

“Those executives are telling us that they don’t have the right skill sets on their teams to navigate this kind of landscape, whether it be the spread of misinformation, threats, facing protests or something else, Fleet said.

Fleet said that “we’ve just entered a world of crisis nowadays,” which is impacting brands’ response strategies. 

“So, crises used to be these things that would happen in like moments in time and then they’d go away,” he said. “But if you think about what the last two years have been like, and what we’ve all faced, we’ve gone from one issue to another nonstop.”

Fleet referenced the pandemic, issues of racial justice the Russia-Ukraine conflict, abortion rights, the rise of AI and more. 

With brands feeling the heat of handling crises and expected to do more than produce a tweet or statement, being proactive is key.

For more, click here.

Photo by Jopwell:

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