Critical Moments

Checklist: Challenge or Crisis?

There are critical moments in our business when, much like a doctor, we have to make the right diagnosis for a client. But unlike those in white coats, we can’t rely on stethoscopes or MRI machines. Instead, we must lean on our experience understanding our clients, their business and the media world in which we live. Our job is to assess the long-term health of a company – much different than the well-being of a person. These corporate treatment steps require experience, wisdom, teamwork, leadership and a wide-angle lens to address the matter properly.

Over the years, I have had to make my share of diagnoses, especially when determining if a matter we have been asked to assist on represents a reputational challenge or a reputational crisis. There is a big difference between the two scenarios, and what often makes it challenging is there can be shades of grey.

The following checklist is a good way to determine if your company or organization is facing a challenge or a crisis. If the answer is “yes” to the following questions, then you have a reputational crisis on your hands, and you need to be at the top of your game. Your organization’s future could depend upon it.

  • Does the matter involve a loss in moral authority within the C suite that will damage the overall credibility of a company internally and externally?
  • Does the situation involve multiple stakeholders? These audiences could include customers, employees, the general public, suppliers, shareholders, potential investors, Wall Street analysts and the media.
  • Does the issue have social-media scalability? Viral compression should never be underestimated. What goes online stays online and can reach millions of people with the push of one button. Blogs and digital media can be very damaging long term to a company’s reputation.
  • Does the issue have national news relevance? When the issue is relevant to national news and has an uncanny degree of timeliness with present or even past news coverage, then watch out.
  • Does it foster emotional repercussions both inside and outside the business? A challenge can move to a crisis when emotions flare up whenever the issue is mentioned. These repercussions create emotional staying power.

Keep an eye on this checklist when advising clients or your company’s executive team. Make sure that you help them avoid confusion and delay when by their side. To avoid delay, quickly assess the problem and then jump into action to respond quickly to limit the problem. Speed of response is essential. Every minute in delay means an hour or more of problems on the reputation front.

To avoid confusion, focus on the message and messengers. The message must be clear, and the messengers must own the message and speak with clarity and honesty.  True, we don’t wear white jackets in our profession, but when we are tasked to lead a crisis, it is equivalent to open heart surgery for the company we are “operating” on. Have a steady hand and a steady team to help you get the job/surgery done with precision and professionalism.