The History of Crisis

Pierpont crisis communication team -- Terry Hemeyer, Chris Jones and Travis Lawson -- reviewed how events from the Nestle baby food recall to the Equifax hack have shaped and changed the way professionals manage crisis.

"Because of technology, social media and 24-hour news, public engagement will only continue to increase and boost the speed at which incidents evolve. More things will become crises, because quite simply, more issues are surfaced today," writes Pierpont account executive Amy Lach. "Given this changing landscape, organization cannot always control every variable--but as Pierpont's crisis team discussed, communicators can control their preparedness and  their response," says Lach.

The team's key tips for public information officers and communications professionals include:

  • Keep calm and carry on: "It's essential that communicators remain the calmest person in the room because they will often be the force that binds their team together," says Hemeyer. "They need to be prepared to deal with gridlock and lack of transparency among management."
  • Distinguish between facts and key messages, and be timely: "In the first hours or days after a crisis, sometimes the only fact known for certain is that an incident has occurred," says Jones. "A brief initial statement can be quickly prepared to respond to initial inquiries that will confirm this fact and convey key messages, such as a concern for those impacted, and a commitment to investigate and provide ongoing updates as more information is known."
  • Establish credibility: "Having communications professionals that are experienced and understand the nuances of handling crises is critical," says Hemeyer. "Managing a crisis can be like drinking water from a fire hose: it's a lot to absorb in a short period of time."
  • Act quickly: "The initial process for activating the crisis management team and communicating with media and the public sets the stage for all other aspects of how the crisis is communicated," says Lawson.