Posted by: Lisa Heathman in: Media Relations -

Crises in the news hit record levels in 2017. The Institute for Crisis Management tracked 801,620 crisis news stories during the year, an increase of 25 percent over 2016, and there are no signs of slowing in 2018. While not every crisis can be avoided, you can prevent some and mitigate the impact of others by understanding what fuels a crisis and taking preventative measures.

Facing the perfect storm

The combination of a 24-hour news cycle and competitive media environment, coupled with the always-on nature of the internet and social media, creates a perfect storm for brands caught in a difficult situation. News and information travel at unprecedented speeds, and individual voices of consumers – not just of media or influencers – can stretch far and wide, leaving brands at the mercy of whatever negative situation may arise.

News stories break from many directions, well before traditional media engage or can assess and report. Plus, as stories ramp up quickly on social media, traditional media may move faster than is prudent to capitalize on its popularity. Consumers, social media and traditional media now expect immediate responses from organizations, and stories may run before an organization has had time to fully process a situation and formulate a response.

In an environment that makes it very difficult to think and act clearly to get ahead of a storm, brands need more than a crisis plan for a challenging situation. A crisis plan is just part of the equation; the other part is prevention.

Capitalizing on the calm

Effective preparation includes understanding the events and actions that could precipitate a crisis. From that understanding, organizations can take appropriate steps to reduce risks. Take advantage of the calm before a storm to do the following:


  1. Examine organizational vulnerabilities and how to address them.

Every organization has some areas of weakness, and it’s important to be aware of what those are and how they can be exploited or breached. Vulnerabilities may be made more pronounced by crises, whether from external forces like a natural disaster or internal developments such as lay-offs.

Work with your crisis management team to brainstorm risk areas and possible crises. Consider the probability of each happening, the anticipated impacts, and potential remedies and responses. Some problem areas may be minimized or even eliminated by modifying internal factors such as culture, communication, policies, procedures, plans or security.


  1. Learn from others’ mistakes.

Review the crisis situations of other brands – data breaches, product recalls, executive impropriety, environmental hazards, workplace accidents, etc. You’ll likely find that even happenings once considered inconsequential can become all-consuming, as an irate customer or an interest group can draw a large audience quickly.

Given the nature of the news environment, audiences are quick to seek someone to blame. Studying another organization’s response to a crisis can offer pointers on what to do – or not do – when a crisis strikes.


  1. Build a “goodwill bank” with stakeholders through risk insurance PR.

A good reputation has a halo effect, as a positive image helps build stakeholder trust and can give brands the benefit of the doubt – or at least a chance to respond thoughtfully – in a challenging situation. Building a bank of goodwill involves building relationships with the media who cover your industry, sharing a steady stream of accurate, relevant news about your brand and making a concerted effort to listen and respond to stakeholders.

An all-weather approach

The question may not be will a crisis hit, but when. By taking preventative measures, establishing a crisis plan and investing in risk insurance PR, you can help your brand weather any storm, small or large.

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