Lessons learned from 10 days of crises

Sabo PR Crisis ExpertsIt started two Wednesdays ago. Mary Ann and I were out with a client for a celebratory beverage when she got a call from another client who had a potential issue boiling up. We wrapped up our drink, and Mary Ann jumped on another call to get background information.

In the meantime, I had to swing by a photoshoot for another project where I received yet another call from another client who had an issue. And then we got another call. We wound up with three issues needing attention after 5 p.m. on that Wednesday night.


After wrapping up the photoshoot, I jetted out to Mary Ann’s house, where we rolled up our sleeves to help guide our clients through their various issues. (A special thank you to her husband, Jeff, for procuring some delicious dinner for us.)

This kicked off a week-and-a-half filled with a number of issues, challenges and crises that required our immediate attention – we’re blaming it on the full moon. I’d like to share a few lessons learned from our most recent experiences that helped us ensure the best possible outcomes.

A team is critical

On that first night, we brought in the whole team, who graciously let us interrupt their evenings to help with the workload. One of the most important initial steps in blocking and tackling is monitoring – it allows us to get a feel of what is being said publicly so we can craft effective messaging. We were able to divide and conquer as we had many eyes on the lookout. I can’t stress how critical having the right people to help during an issue is.

Collaboration creates effective outcomes

During the course of the past two weeks, we ended up spending time in-house with a number of our clients in “command central rooms” so we could talk strategy, monitor news, develop messaging and respond to media inquiries in a timely manner. One of the best outcomes of having everyone around a table is we were really able to collaborate. We had people from multiple background who offered insight – ultimately ensuring the message was as clean, concise and human-centric as possible.

Get your facts straight

While working to craft a response for one issue, we learned of a fact we thought would be helpful to share. One of the attorneys in the room pushed back, saying we should look deeper and make sure nothing could contradict it. Turns out there was. In a crisis situation, any response you give should be air-tight accurate and backed up by facts you know at that time. If not, you're opening yourself up to even more issues, including having to backtrack and retract and potentially even litigation. Double, triple, quadruple check that the information you share is accurate.

Remember people

This sounds basic, but it’s what makes the difference between a statement that sounds like talking points created by a committee or an authentic, effective statement that truly responds to the issue at hand. Often, when a crisis arises, clients are so worried about how an organization is “going to look” that we forget there are real people involved, going through a very real situation. Our job is to keep things focused on the people at the heart of the crisis, and breathe life and compassion into the statements, letters and other communications needed.

We often work alongside attorneys (and we love them!) who are risk-adverse by the nature of their profession. We’ve learned the fine art of give-and-take, nudging them a little past their comfort zones while always being respectful of the concerns they raise when we are drafting responses. In the end, we always get to a place where we’re all comfortable so we can give a response that has heart without open the door to potential litigation.

Keep calm and carry on

This is the number one rule in a crisis – remain calm under pressure. There’s also a real tendency to overreact and stray from an organization’s standard practices. While sometimes this is necessary, in others such a deviation would raise even more red flags. Case in point: we created a recommendation we thought was a thorough plan. When we reconnected with the client team, they shared it would be out of the ordinary for them to respond in that way – so we modified. There is a delicate balance in a crisis response – too much and you can escalate, too little and you can appear out of touch. One thing I think is important is to keep in mind during a crisis is to always return to your core values as an organization – let these values guide you, encourage you and inform your decisions.

If you think your organization is immune to issues, think again. Everyone is going to experience a crisis at some point so when the red flag is raised, you have to accept it and find a way to manage it quickly, effectively and, again, like a human.

For me, the best days are when I can go home and really know we helped someone. While it was an intense few weeks, I’m really proud of the good work we accomplished alongside our clients over the past couple of weeks – and I am grateful we have a couple more weeks until the next full moon.

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