Public Relations Tactics

Recovery Mode: Bouncing Back From a Crisis, Stronger Than Ever

September 5, 2017

[francois poirier]
[francois poirier]

Unlike a common business problem or challenge, a crisis poses discernible risks to your reputation, financial wellness or business survival — or maybe all three. Crisis recovery describes the period after the crisis, when your organization is once again intact and has resumed normal operations and restored its brand. Handling a crisis well can even improve your reputation. But crisis recovery doesn’t happen by accident.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” That statement is absolutely true in today’s volatile marketplace. But a dusty binder on a shelf won’t prepare you for effective crisis management. Every organization needs a current crisis communications plan, along with training and practice sessions.

Top recovery tactics

Assume that it’s not a matter of if — but when — a crisis will strike your organization. Therefore the time to think about essential recovery tactics is before a crisis occurs. The tactics we recommend are confronting the problem, maintaining visibility and transparency, communicating clearly and often, and monitoring key constituencies.

When you’ve identified a crisis, the first step toward recovery is to confront the problem. We tell our clients they can’t fix a problem until they face it — which takes courage, honesty and humility. It’s not easy. Confronting a problem goes against human instincts to deny, minimize, blame or hide. You might feel like a kid whose baseball just broke an angry neighbor’s window: It’s easier to hide in the bushes or blame your kid brother. But if you face the situation rather than turn away from it, you’ll earn the trust and respect of your employees, board members, shareholders and the public.

Next steps after confronting a crisis

Throughout the recovery process, staying transparent and accessible at the highest levels of your organization prevents rumors and reassures employees and your public that you’re working through the issue.

During a crisis, clear, consistent and regular communications are essential — and not just with the media. Too many companies put the business press or general public before their own people. Begin by communicating with your employees, customers and board. Remember that employees are like your family. When you’re in trouble, it’s best to tell your family first, so they don’t discover it on their own. If they know you respect and care about them enough to be honest with them, they will run through the fire for you.

If you don’t communicate with your staff, they’ll eventually find out about the crisis anyway — and make their own judgments. Your lack of candor will create distance and distrust, leading to lower morale, productivity and loyalty — problems that have taken down plenty of businesses.

Media-monitoring tools can help your organization understand exactly how a crisis and its fallout are affecting your reputation and brand. By understanding the concerns of your constituents, you’ll know the specific issues you need to address. Conversely, media monitoring might reveal that coverage of your crisis is dwindling. In that case, let the story die.

Remember that the public has a short attention span. When your 15 minutes of infamy are over, walk away. If the firestorm is subsiding, don’t give it more air.

Tactics to avoid

Saying “no comment” to media questions may be common legal counsel, but it won’t help you regain the public’s trust. Even if you manage to stay quiet, litigation can surface at any time. To address the public’s genuine concerns, organizations need to communicate but choose their words carefully.

However, legal counsel is essential in a crisis, and is one component in a recovery plan that should also include your internal communications team and outside communications counsel.

Data breaches have become common crises for organizations today. But with cybercrime targeting retailers, banks and even health care providers now ubiquitous, some organizations shrug off their impact, responding with little more than consumer notifications. It’s rare to hear anything from the organizations responsible for protecting personal data.

But these crises have a very real and personal impact on customer privacy, trust and financial security. An organization’s response to a data breach should reflect those concerns.

Airlines have suffered their share of technology glitches, incurring the wrath of passengers in the process. But Delta Airlines set a great example with how it handled a systemic power outage in August 2016. 

Thousands of flights were cancelled during a three-day outage. But Delta immediately owned up to the crisis and ran toward it. Through it all, the company’s CEO gave interviews to the media, and the airline communicated with passengers and compensated its loyal customers. Delta admitted that it didn’t have answers at first, but never focused on the failure of the technology. Instead, the company acknowledged the personal impact the outage had on its passengers and their families. That’s the right way to handle a crisis.

A happy ending to a crisis

Time and again, I’ve seen companies elevate their reputations because of handling a crisis well. You often hear survivors and disaster victims say they wouldn’t change a thing if they could turn back time — because they’ve emerged from their struggle stronger, more focused and more compassionate.

The same holds true for organizations with good intent and the willingness to learn from their mistakes. Any business can look good under ideal circumstances, but those that rise to the occasion on a bad day are viewed as more accomplished, trustworthy and successful.

How you conduct yourself during the worst of times is a measure of your integrity. By handling a crisis well, you become a model to your industry and public.

Bob McNaney

As senior vice president of crisis and critical issues for Padilla, Bob McNaney counsels global corporations through crisis situations. An award-winning investigative journalist, McNaney now conducts crisis training across the country and teaches executives to successfully communicate their messages. His expertise includes spokesperson coaching and issue management. Connect with him at


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