Back in January, when the potential of 2017 glittered optimistically before us, I decided to start tracking the crisis work we do.
It was almost an afterthought to ask the team to guesstimate how many crises we might handle this year. I nearly had to pick myself up from our cow-skin rug when 242 was the first response. 242. That would have meant handling nearly one crisis every work day for the entire year.
As we prepare to close out the year, the actual number has been far fewer – we wrapped up crisis 89 on December 8. For the number-crunchers among us, that translates to one issue every 2.6 work days.
Our crisis practice ran the gamut from A to Z this year – from accidents to zoning to a little bit of everything in between. While causality varied widely throughout the year, sex and social media tied as the top reasons behind issues, with each accounting for 15 percent of the situations we dealt with.
We also handled more than our fair share of environmental and racial issues, along with a garden variety of business-related matters, including a proxy fight and a dismemberment (two separate issues there). We even responded to an art-related crisis.
Not surprisingly, no two crises were alike. Some blew up – and over – quickly, lasting less than 24 hours. Others lingered – and lingered and lingered. Quite a few simmered, dying down for weeks or months only to flare up just as we were ready to color them done.
By their nature, crises distract from the normal course of business. Whether you are a small nonprofit or a Fortune 500 mega-company, crises demand time, attention and resources. They suck up so much of the oxygen that an organization can struggle – and often fail – to maintain business as usual.
But all these issues shared some common factors that underscore what it means to be a crisis: They were all show-stopping, heart-stopping, time-consuming, reputation-bending and psyche-damaging. They charted their own course, often escalating into super-nova intensity.
They were all immediate, they felt non-stop and, from the time we received that initial call from the chief executive, they all became our top priority.
Crisis situations don’t keep bankers’ hours – nor do we. I’ve coordinated press conferences at midnight and fielded panicked calls at 4 a.m. My team and I have spent countless hours writing talking points, combing through social media posts, coaching CEOs before they step into the klieg lights – then getting up the next day to do it all again.
We’re fast, effective and efficient, a combination of the journalistic backgrounds many of us bring to the table and skills honed on the PR side of the desk. We also care, and care very deeply, about our clients. Their issues become our issues, and we strive to resolve their problems with the solicitude with which we would handle our own.
But we do have the benefit of being arm’s length, which gives us a much-needed perspective in a crisis situation. As I am fond – perhaps overly fond – of saying, when your hair is on fire, you can’t think of anything else BUT the fact your hair is on fire. SPR steps in, dumps a bucket of water on your head and then helps you clean up the mess.
It’s exhausting work, yet exhilarating. It’s professionally satisfying to be able to assist an organization at one of its lowest points – to reassure that the crisis won’t last forever (they never do) and affirm that the organization will be able to move on (they always do).
We’ve been referred to as heroines, saviors and geniuses this year. Yes, just as I’m tracking the crisis work we do, I’m also capturing the praise our team receives for that work – and for the other non-crisis things we do throughout the year.
One of my recent favorite crisis-related comments came from the C-suite of a Fortune 100 company last month: Hiring Sabo PR was the best money we have spent in a long time.
So here we sit, 13 business days – and counting – to the end of 2017. It’s been a privilege to assist with the 89 crises that we handled, and a relief that it wasn’t 242. I’m not sure if 2017 will stand at 89 or break into the 90s – but I am sure that my team and I are, and will be, ready.