Weathering the social storm

June 9, 2018
Dustin Manley

Your organization will face a crisis. It’s a question of when, not if, and entirely out of your control.

What you can control is your response. Proper planning, messaging, and action will have you navigate the rough uncharted waters of a crisis and deliver you to calmer seas. During the 2018 CPRS National Conference, Eric Bergman and Sarah K. Jones outlined their tips on anticipating and mitigating crises before they occur, and how to counsel senior management on navigating the storms that get through.

Issues may be broken down into the following types:

  • Potential. Trends or information not yet in the public.
  • Emerging. A problem that hasn’t reached a point where it threatens to undermine credibility or cause serious damage. In other words, a fight looking for a place to happen.
  • Current. There is an enduring problem which is causing intense interest and scrutiny from stakeholders and the public. Imagine a ladle stirring a pot and bringing all off the noodles— emerging and past issues—from the bottom to the surface.
  • Crisis. Significant risk to reputation. Your organization is standing trial in the court of public opinion which is the opposite of law; you’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

One of the most effective ways to train people in anticipating, identifying, and mitigating issues is to have them watch the Weather Network. This is a form of issues management nearly everyone performs daily; regular observation and pattern recognition determine everything from attire to travel plans.

Tim Hortons offers a prime example of suffering a crisis due to poor anticipation and preparation.

On May 30, 2017, the Government of Ontario announced it will be increasing the province’s minimum wage to $14 an hour on January 1, 2018. When the minimum wage was increased in 2018, Tim Hortons cut its employees benefits in response to the increase announced six months ago.

In April 2018, Tim Hortons slid from the 4th most reputable company in Canada to the 50th; in May they fell further to 68th. Recovery will take a long time and the ability to regain their position is in question.

Diligent monitoring and anticipation will assist in mitigating most issues before they become crises. However, when a crisis does occur—and it will—you must respond with empathy, honesty, and commitments.

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