It’s not a sprint, but it is a race

There is something about a breaking crisis that’s thrilling. Perhaps it’s the mystery of the unknown which keeps us intrigued, thirsty for more details. Or maybe the initial state of shock keeps us hungry for answers and information. Whatever it is, when an issue breaks it’s consuming for everyone – particularly those responsible for responding.

Working in crisis communications, I have seen a number of organisations practice their ability to respond to an issue. Like any test, it’s apparent during a crisis simulation who has done their homework. The organisations who have prepared response plans – and have studied how to mobilise them, perform the best. Those who don’t begin to come undone shortly after the action kicks off.


Because preparation and planning are key to successfully managing a crisis.

The people who staff a crisis response are the ones who drive it forward. Studies show the average person will change jobs between 12-15 times in their career*. Therefore, statistically it’s unlikely the people mobilised on day one of a response will still be working in the same positions if the issue runs long-term. It’s almost inevitable that the staff working on a crisis response will change, but the delivery expectations of the response will not. This is why staffing and record management are important elements of the crisis resilience planning process. Centralised record keeping, role based emails, and regular inventories on the staffing of a response is crucial to its ability to perform effectively in the long-term. It is unrealistic to have a person working seven days a week, 24-hours a day in a role they specialise in for a response. What happens when they need to sleep? Who takes over the workload of their substantive position? How will the job be done if they choose to leave? Is it in the plan? It needs to be. The success of the response, and the organisation, depends on it.

Organisations who continue to manage issues stemming from a crisis that happened some time ago are a testament to the importance of thorough planning. Whilst preparedness is key to handling a crisis, recovery is the overall measure of success. The handling of follow on issues or the aftermath of the initial crisis can, at times, be the largest hurdle of all. BP’s Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010 is a prime example of this, as the company continues to communicate its response and restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, 6 years later. British telecom TalkTalk is another example of a long running corporate crisis, after the company was hit with a £400,000 fine in October this year for the 2015 data breach that exposed the details of 150,000 customers. To recover and restore brand reputation, the company has worked at communicating new pricing plans and rolling out services such as a voice biometric ID system to positively reframe the conversation online today. Successfully recovering from a crisis is important because ultimately a company’s reputation has a direct impact on its bottom line. Effectively recovering from a crisis requires having a plan that sets out key objectives and actions, detailing how the company will recover over time. As is clear from TalkTalk and BP cases, a planned communications response is key to managing a crisis in the long term.

Big issues rarely go away in a number of weeks. Effective planning provides companies with a sense of direction when all eyes are upon them. A good crisis response is one that involves a well-organised team who are prepared, practiced and ready to go the distance. A crisis response is not a sprint, but it is a race. No organisation can afford to be left at the start line or run out momentum part way though. Competitors will push to advance on setbacks, and every move can be replayed, analysed and scrutinised by onlookers. Investing in crisis resilience sets an organisation on track for a strong finish.  

*Data taken from a Linked in survey