Getting to The Essence of a Crisis: Crisis Communications Rules & Resources


With more than two decades in senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank as well as agency experience, I have developed three simple crisis communications rules that have served as a guide to managing crises. 


Essentially, these are:


  • Identify/Acknowledge the problem
  • Fix the problem
  • Learn (and implement) the lessons from the experience 


I encourage you to read my latest article on in which I cover this topic in more detail:  


Three Simple Crisis Communications Rules to Live By (PwC Just Followed The Playbook)


In summary, here are a few of the takeaways:


  • A crisis is generally the result of a business problem. Rarely do they start as a communications problem.  Understanding this is powerful starting point for taking the required steps to move beyond it.


  • Negative coverage is not a necessarily a measure of the job of a communications team, but a reflection of the core issue. A poor response or messaging may well result in a crisis becoming a communications problem. 


  • When it comes to identifying or acknowledging a problem, what might appear simple is not easy. Understanding the core problem may involve in looking at business systems.  In the article, I use the example of a plane crash.  Until the causes are known the issue doesn’t go away.


  • “Corporate ego” may prevent a company from recognizing, or potentially more importantly, admitting the problem. Communicators may need to stand up to legal counsel when litigation is a risk, to do what is right from a communications perspective.  Bringing in external crisis communications experts is one way to provide outside perspective and guidance.  


  • Fixing the problem is at times easier than admitting it.  Companies may get to fixing what needs to be addressed only after the cost of not doing so is understood.  I have yet to see a significant crisis where the impact on a company’s reputation, stock price, lost revenues and fines would have been lower than resolution before the issue became a crisis. 


  • When it comes to solutions it may be tempting to take half measures or be vague. This is always a mistake.  Never underestimate stakeholders, clients and the public.


  • Learning from crises may appear to be obvious.  But it is tempting to fix what is immediately in front of us and miss the bigger picture.  This sets you up for even bigger problems down the road.


  • Sharing the steps a company plans to take to address an issue goes a long way to rebuilding public trust. It’s key to moving on.    



Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND. Photo credit: Dale Robinette


When it came to dealing with its Oscar’s issue, PwC was effective and transparent.  The combination of acknowledging the problem, fixing it and then putting in place protocols to minimize the chance of repetition are likely reasons why they have been able to move on.


While it’s important to plan for crises, it is key to respond quickly when they happen.  Providing good advice to management at these moments is critical, as is, knowing when to call in experts.  On CommunicationsMatch we have crisis communications industry leaders from large, mid-sized and boutique agencies and consultants who list crisis communications as an area of expertise.


When an issue arises having a clear roadmap is valuable.  My three crisis communications rules are a reductionist approach to managing complexity and for me have always been a good place to start.      



Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM 

 CommunicationsMatch is a search tool that helps companies find communications agencies and consultants by industry and communications expertise, location and size.  The site has 5,000 agencies and consultant profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video.  Listing & Search are Free.  See more articles on our Insights Blog.  Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies. Watch our introductory video.


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