The Equation For Crisis Success

March 28, 2018


We’re not big fans of jumping into the fray with whatever everyone else is writing about at a given time. There’s a lot of digital noise already out in the ether, so why make that worse? We have opinions on the United flight dog, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation, Uber’s self-driving car death, and more. Of course we do — the name of our game is crisis management, right? Those are all crises for those brands. We have views.

I am not sure how many of the “experts” have even been in the room when issues and impacts like these are discussed. I am slow to comment on what happened, why and what’s next when I am not in the room learning all the dynamics of the situation.

But rather than shove those external views down your throat in an article that will get lost in 478 articles about the same topic, we wanted to organize thoughts a bit differently. We wanted to give you an equation for crisis success, which you can get a deeper reveal on in the webinar above. A model that has proven itself across industries, companies and cultures.

Start here:

  • First and fast is important.
  • If you can’t tell your own story, someone else will — maybe even a competitor.
  • The “bar” in terms of customer response to what happens with your brand isn’t about solving the problem; it’s actually about showing that you’re aware of it and willing to make changes.

Now, taking all that into account, here’s the promised equation:

image of Kiths equation for crisis success

These are the elements you need to plug into this equation:

  • What do you actually stand for? (As opposed to the buzzwords you use in big meetings)
  • Who is truly in charge of a given situation?

If you know both of those answers, you’ll understand your speed of response in a crisis.

For example:

  • Bad: Stand for nothing except for pursuit of profit + very unclear hierarchy in tough moments will lead to a slow response
  • Good: Very principled about actions + clear hierarchy in terms of who calls what shots will lead to a faster response

People have asked me for years — and we discussed this on the above webinar — where I come down on “speed kills” vs. “speed saves.” Speed kills is usually around really sloppy execution. I’ve seen that happen in client engagements, sure.

But in general, I come down on “speed saves.” If you get in front of a storyline and own it, you will get through a crisis. If you flounder, you’re playing from behind. Except for the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, most teams aren’t good at playing from behind. You need to be in front or close. And speed is going to help you get to the right spot.

This all ties to our model for reputation excellence. We created this but while there are dozens of models around R&D and pricing, HR and legal, there wasn’t a set model for reputation management and crisis. So we designed this:

image of the 4 A's pyramid

What we’re discussing here about the chain of command and core values crosses all of these areas, although awareness is one of the primary areas.

The bottom line:

  • Be observational about what’s happening in the marketplace.
  • Ask yourself, “How would we have handled this?”
  • Walk through the exercise.
  • See how mission/values intersect with chain of command.
  • What would the speed of response be?
  • How many people would need to weigh in?
  • If you test this process once a quarter, you’ll have a road map for how to determine your “choke points” and subsequently fix them.

So ask yourself: does my organization respond with the speed it should? If not, brushing up on your crisis math may be the way to improve.

Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.