Add Crisis of Reputation to Your Crisis Planning Kit

Wrinkled Sheet Of Paper With Inscription "reputation"Most companies planning for their crisis communications focus on physical types of crises like natural disasters and crime. Increasingly, however, it’s just as likely that an organization will face a crisis of reputation and the crisis will happen on social networks. This is a shocker to many traditional companies. You can just imagine the CEO saying: “Why should we put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb?”

In short, if you don’t, you’ll be toast.

Online conflicts can be brutal as anyone who has weathered one will tell you, but you CAN survive one. The key is to be aware of what’s going on in the virtual world and to prepare for the next conflict.

“Your online privacy—the combination of what you and other share about you online and what you manage to keep off the Web – and reputation are inextricably intertwined,” says Andrea Weckerle, author of Civility in the Digital Age.

An online conflict can be completely manufactured.  It can spring from erroneous information, a misunderstanding,  or the widespread opinion of a key influencer.  This is completely counterintuitive to how most companies prepare for real crisis communications. It is just as likely to spring from a genuine customer service issue or human resource matter which is advanced by a loud and influential person in your networks.

A traditional crisis usually has a beginning, middle and end, allowing the team to return to a normal state of affairs. This is not always true for an online conflict, which keeps coming back because of the social network convention of sharing and passing along links (false though they may be!) as well as the likely results from search engine queries.

There are things you can do to prepare for this type of crisis, but it does take a time commitment.  First step: find out your current online reputation.  Do this when things are normal, not when something’s brewing.  One thing you can do is Google your company name once a week and see what you find.  Then Google your company name with “stinks” or another bad word and now see what happens. Once you do that, it opens up additional opportunities to search networks like LinkedIn, Glass Door, Yelp and Trip Advisor to see results there, too. Second step: start fixing anything you find which is inaccurate or incomplete.

This only scratches the surface of monitoring your online reputation. Among the many gems in Weckerle’s book is a complete chapter on monitoring your online reputation with detailed instructions on how to do it. This book is a blueprint for managing all types of online disputes, based on Weckerle’s experience as an attorney and as the founder of CiviliNationan organization dedicated to making the internet a more civil place. It is full of relevant case studies and numerous strategies for resolving every type of online conflict imaginable.

Even if your company is not in an all-out crisis of reputation online, learning to navigate negative reviews is part of managing civility online.  The Journal of Consumer Research reported that negative reviews which were polite actually helped to sell the merchandise which was reviewed.

Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products — even when those reviews include negative opinions.

The authors — researchers Ryan Hamilton, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Ann L. McGill — found that cultivating civility might make consumers feel better about a product.

So, why should you put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb?  Your reputation depends on it.

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.


Essential Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan

Formulating a crisis response and communications plan is an important first step in preparing for your next crisis. Some of the best crisis plans are simple. Rather than envisioning every “if this, then that” circumstance, a robust crisis plan which is somewhat vague might be the perfect framework for your organization.

Every crisis plan contains similar components. However, each component should be relevant to your organization and its structure as well as peculiarities of your geographic location (coastal travel organizations will face annual hurricane preparedness whereas others face tornado season). A good plan should also have power – the power for the team to follow its steps in a crisis without stopping to seek permission or get approvals. It should empower a team to work a crisis in the first few hours without sanctions or interruptions.

Does your organization have a crisis plan? If not, you can get started today with these essential elements.

Goal or Objective

This brief introductory section should outline what this plan is designed to go, with words of encouragement for the team who may turn to it suddenly for help. It will help set the tone for the team in crisis.


Clearly and plainly stated in a few bullet points.

Definition of Crisis

A general definition may give clarity as a crisis emerges and should include a bulleted list of examples specific to your business or organization.

Statement of Organization’s Crisis Policy

If you already have one in an employee handbook or business operations guide, it should be repeated here.

Crisis Preparation

What has your organization done in advance to prepare the team to manage a crisis? Where do you keep the plan? Do you have a conference calling number reserved? How is the team alerted? Do you have outside counsel on standby? Their information should go here. Are there reporting forms which will be used later? They should also go here. Some organizations have designated muster areas if their physical plant needs to be evacuated. What about designated areas for news media to gather? Where are the emergency supplies located?

While some of these questions seem obvious, it’s important to have it all in one place. Why? What if the one person who stocked the emergency supply cabinet or the one person who has the evacuation plan memorized is on vacation, or worse, is involved in the emergency itself?

Crisis Management Team

This section should state the titles and areas of responsibility for each member of your team. It might be useful to include a chart of the team members.

Command Center

Information about how and where you will establish a command center go here. Also, an alternate location should be named.

Crisis Management Timeline

This is the blueprint for how your team will identify the problem, begin to solve it and communicate what they are doing to the stakeholder base. There will be 4-6 steps to managing your crisis, although depending on its complexity and severity, you may follow the steps more than once.

Pre-approved Statements

Every organization has a handful of crises that are likely to happen. For the travel industry this might include weather emergencies like tornadoes and hurricanes, medical emergencies of guests and visitors, crimes committed at the organization like robbery, car accidents and domestic disputes.


Every organization should routinely monitor what is being said about their brand. This might include online services or keywords but may also be part of a media database subscription. These tools change frequently, so it’s important to know who has access and what they are capable of delivering in a crisis.

Evaluation Procedures

What action is necessary at the conclusion of a crisis? Are you bound by law to file a certain type of report? Is someone on the team required to write an after-action report? Will the team gather at a certain time after the crisis is over to evaluate what happened and any changes which need to be made in the organization before the next crisis? A good crisis plan will identify a timeline for these things to take place. It’s important for the crisis management team to download emotionally, too. Putting a statement about what’s required related to evaluation sets the stage for that to happen later.


Your plan should include all necessary attachments like the management team chart and contact information spreadsheet, media lists, company backgrounder, pre-approved statements and company “boilerplate” language.

You can start the journey to making your organization crisis-ready when you start to build a plan from these essential elements.

More Crisis Planning Resources can be found here.

This post reflects some of the material I will be using next week for Texas Travel Industry Association’s Travel and Tourism College, an annual event to elevate the expertise of travel professionals in Texas.

UPDATE: Want more? Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

Roundabout Responses in a Crisis

It’s hitting the fan. Your organization is in crisis and you have 30 minutes to get your act together and prepare the first response.  The challenge for any organization in crisis is that you are still gathering facts to figure out what happened yet the “always-on” media and persistent public demand a response.

It is at this moment during a crisis that most organizations falter – by trying to deliver a statement that is the definitive answer to multiple stakeholders.  In the current media environment, that concept is frustrating and false. Frustrating because you can’t know everything about the crisis yet and false because by the time you get the statement is approved internally, the information will change.

What should you do avoid losing your momentum and satisfy those who are watching you?

Craft a quick bridging response.

A bridging response is simple, straightforward, yet slightly vague.  It acknowledges to all your stakeholders that you are AWARE of what is happening, that you are RESPONSIVE to what’s happening, yet buys time until you actually have real information. Verified information.

Many organizations are routinely affected by weather conditions. We know that there is a hurricane season annually and other parts of the country are routine plagued by tornadoes. While each storm system is different, there are often commonalities. So using an example of a weather crisis for an example, let’s see how this approach could play out.

An extreme storm hits your town, causing power outages and damage.  How much damage? Is anyone hurt? When will you be up and running again? What should we do in the meantime?  You probably can’t answer all these questions in the space of 30-45 minutes, but here’s what you CAN say.

We have been affected by [storm name or condition or event] and are in the process of assessing the effects to [people, place].  Right now, our teams are [share what they are doing: touring the facility, driving the area, etc] and as soon as we know more, we will keep you updated.

Bridging responses help establish that you are in control and working the problem, which makes media-watchers much more forgiving than the organization that waits until their statement is just “perfect.” But, it’s up to you and your organization to keep your stakeholders updated periodically as new, and verified, information becomes available.

Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Earlier this week, I taught two classes at the TTIA’s Tourism College at Texas State University. The program, in its second year, will lead students who participate all three years to a certificate called “Certified Tourism Executive” or CTE.

While teaching the sophomore class this week, we examined a mock crisis in small groups.  Our scenario was a historic hotel fire.  Each group of 5-7 assumed three things: 1) the fire had been reported; 2) the hotel was occupied; and 3) all members of staff and management were present when the fire began.

Their task was to figure out who should do what in a crisis. During the course of the activity, each group thought of additional things that would need to happen during their scenario—like what to take out of the hotel and who should write a statement.  As a communicator who has participated in numerous crises during her career, it was gratifying to see the groups thinking innovatively under pressure.

After the scenario, each group shared one role that they devised and what the responsibilities were for each role.  Here’s what they shared:

  • Command Center – needs to include communication and operations components and use a hub and spoke approach
  • Monitor – someone to monitor dialogue in all media spaces and report misinformation.
  • Liaison – someone needs to be the go-between for fire, EMS and other first responders because in this scenario, they will be in command.  Someone in a maintenance or engineering role would be best suited to this task.
  • Public Relations – Someone to serve as spokesperson, create statements and interact with media requests, preferably someone who is bilingual.
  • Records – Since this was Tourism College, the group naturally knew that the occupancy list and other business records would need to be retrieved and that someone from the financial area of the leadership team would be most suited to do that.
  • Sales – This function could serve by working with partner hotels to help relocate guests displaced by a fire.
  • Housekeeping – One group thought that the housekeeping team could calm guests and assist them with blankets, water, etc in a café across the street.
  • Leader – Last but not least, this function would most likely be performed by the General Manager who would be briefed throughout and most likely serve as spokesperson.

Other Roles determined by the team included the Front Desk Manager who could assist with guest evacuation, particularly special needs guests, and someone to do Vendor Outreach to get the supply chain restored.

This group activity highlighted the flexibility that small organizations might need during a crisis. It’s easy to assume that the role you perform each day is the same role you would perform in a crisis, but in small organizations, each member of the team often wears several hats.

Is your team ready for its next crisis? What roles will you assume?

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

This series is to support the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I worked with earlier this week who attended my session on crisis planning. They are attending Tourism College,  a week-long educational opportunity which is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.




Crisis Planning includes Packing a Bag

There’s a crisis every day somewhere in the world and plenty of advice from marketing and public relations professionals on how organizations should handle communicating when they happen. But rarely have I seen an attempt to outline the supplies you need to have on hand before your crisis hits. When I was the communications director for SeaWorld San Antonio, many of these things were at the ready when preparing for a crisis; others we developed over time or as part of post-crisis evaluation. So here is a list of essentials for organizations just starting to visualize their readiness.

  1. A Ready Room – A place from which you will work the crisis. It can be a room, or it can be a box, or it could be a folding table in a hallway.
  2. Paper stuff – You need paper, pens, notepads, notebooks, business cards, markers and a phone book.  Yes, really.  The most routine crises are weather driven and usually result in an interruption of power. It’s best to assume you will not have power while working through your crisis plan.
  3. Lists – Media contact list, community contact list including the PIO at police, fire and public utilities plus leadership team list.  If the power is out, you may not have access to your computer and don’t want to waste what’s left of your cell phone battery to check phone numbers.
  4. Call Log – Make a simple chart with these headings: Date, time, media outlet, request, deadline, call-back number or URL, then make 25 copies and put it in the box.  In a time of crisis, the phone lines may be jammed with callers and this will assist multiple people in effectively answering and tracking incoming inquiries.
  5. Timeline log – As soon as the crisis starts, start writing down the events as they unfold.  It’s amazing how quickly you will forget key points in managing a crisis. All participants contribute to the log and it can be on a whiteboard, in a notebook, or on tear off sheets that are taped to the wall.
  6. Sign In Sheets – If you end up calling a press conference, or doing multiple media briefings, these are very helpful for tracking who was present.
  7. Other supplies:  Two way radios can be effective if you are trying to communicate over long distances, as well as batteries, camera and flash drives.

While I haven’t covered it here, there are plenty of other items that might be specific to your workplace or industry that you want to have on hand during a crisis.  Some that were mentioned during our crisis planning exercise included a schematic of your building or facility and a passenger or guest manifest. And don’t forget the first aid kit!

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

This series is to support the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I worked with earlier this week who attended my session on crisis planning. They are attending Tourism College,  a week-long educational opportunity which is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.

6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

It happens to every organization at some point.  Something sudden and unexpected happens which requires us to act.  In tourism organizations, it can be as simple as a weather event which affects daily operation.  Or as complicated as an event like the BP Oil Spill.  Most disasters fall somewhere in between, but the key to survival is to have a plan and use the plan.  Organizations who do not, often find themselves under more intense scrutiny and then, it’s easy to make mistakes.

  1. Taking too long to respond is the most common mistake made during a crisis.  Communicate early and often, particularly in this 24/7, “always on” media environment.
  2. Getting angry with the media.  It’s easy to lose your cool and the pressure from large volumes of media is unusual for most organizations, and they often have a hard time coping with it.  Stay cool and you will survive.
  3. Internal panic – in the face of a disaster, you need every cool head and may need to calm down those who haven’t been through something like this before.  This makes it even more important to create roles and responsibilities for the team members responding to the crisis.
  4. Dual roles – Many members of your leadership team will be wearing more than one hat during a crisis, which can complicate communication.  Clarify as much as possible and afterward, figure out how to adjust roles for future events.
  5. Underestimating interest by the public – When you’re on the inside of a crisis, the level of detail that the media and public are requesting often seems out of line.  Organizations still aren’t used to sharing so often and it takes some adjustments to accept.
  6. Leadership – This is the key to any organizations success or failure in a crisis.  Whether it’s lack of leadership or, on the other hand, too many leaders, a crisis is the time for the best leader to step in and take the team through the process.

Identifying potential issues before a crisis strikes, will help an organization avoid them and master their next crisis.

This series is a resource for the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I am working with this week on how to prepare in a crisis, as part of Travel and Tourism College. The week-long educational opportunity is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.  Those who participate for 3 years will get certification as a tourism executive.

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Do no harm. This was the first thing I was taught about crisis planning, back in the mid-1980s way before cell phones and Twitter. Twenty-plus years later and it’s still the best piece of advice anyone can follow.   It is an integral part of every crisis planning and crisis response session I teach.

The second piece of advice came from my years as a Girl Scout:  Be Prepared.  While no one waits around for a crisis to happen, there are so many things you can do in advance of an unforeseen event that will help your organization manage it and move on.

Many organizations do crisis planning and response well, and literally scratch their heads when they see the gaffes committed by those organizations who make big mistakes under fire.  If you haven’t yet thought about what would happen in a crisis, here are three objectives commonly used in visualizing the problem.

Contain the Risk

This means responding to the actual crisis, whether it is natural or manmade, accidental or intentional.  It also means to secure the people and places that are involved in the event.

Resolve the Problem

This is pretty self explanatory for weather events. If it’s a fire, put it out. If it’s a thunderstorm, clean up the damage.  For manmade or intentional events, though, the road to resolving the problem is far more complicated.

Communicate Effectively throughout the Process

This means to talk about what’s happening, give advisories, warnings, share images, updates and information. Where some organizations get into trouble is when they consider these three principles as happening one at a time, when in fact, they often happen simultaneously.

Smart organizations know that many elements of crisis planning CAN and ARE planned in advance.  This can be as simple as creating a phone list or as involved as creating a triage team for larger incidents and practicing how you will respond.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. Here are some links to get you started in planning YOUR next crisis.

This series is a preview of my presentation tomorrow for 100 tourism professionals from around the state who are attending Travel and Tourism College. The week-long educational opportunity is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.

Part 2:  6 Mistakes Organizations Make in a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities