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Introducing Crisis Management

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What is crisis management?

You can think of crisis management as a set of strategies and processes for dealing with unexpected negative situations. In such situations, the brand’s reputation is at risk, first from the crisis itself, and then from how you handle the crisis. In the short term, you need to determine how urgent the crisis is. Then your focus moves to solving the immediate problem. In the long term, you need to deploy a strategic process of repairing brand reputation and rebuilding consumer trust.

No matter how many safeguards and processes you put in place, you could suddenly find yourself facing an unexpected crisis. Any business can become engulfed in bad publicity when a crisis hits. In today’s social media environment, news travels fast, and you have to respond promptly and proactively. Even if you don’t have a social media presence, your business is likely to have other digital assets today, such as a website and online shop, or digital PR.

Sources of crisis

But where might crisis come from? Unfortunately, they can originate from a number of sources, and by their very nature are totally unpredictable. There are some common categories of incident that you need to be prepared for.

Natural disasters

The first, and perhaps most well-known type of crisis stems from natural disasters. These include earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, and so on. Also, be mindful of social and political shocks, such as war, terrorism, coups, or violent protests.


Obviously, digital assets are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Many companies have been hit by distributed denial of service, of DDoS, attacks. Cyber-attacks can also lead to breaches or leaks of users’ personal data. Such leaks can severely erode customer trust in a company.


A company that is exposed for conducting misdeeds, such as criminal or moral transgressions, is going to face a serious crisis. For example, the company might have defied regulation, or worse acted in a clearly unethical way. Customers are unlikely to want to buy products from a company that has been found guilty of illegal activity.

Financial crimes

Financial crimes are a particular category of misdeeds. These relate to a company’s financial matters, and often their tax affairs. This can be a PR disaster for a company, because its financial management might be clearly seen to be at odds with the values that the company proudly promotes in its marketing literature. Most customers regard it as unethical for companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, especially if the company’s senior executives are being well compensated with large salaries and generous bonuses.

Supply chain failure

A failure in your supply chain can lead to stock shortages and empty shelves. Initially, you might be able to spin this as evidence of booming demand for your products. However, if the problem persists, it will be seen simply as a symptom of poor planning and bad infrastructure.

Safety scare

One crisis that all companies fear is a high-profile product recall or safety scare. People quickly lose confidence in a company if its products are found to be defective. This can present a major brand risk.

Let’s consider a famous example. Remember when Johnson & Johnson had to recall Tylenol back in 1982? This was its branded paracetamol (called acetaminophen in the US) product. The company moved fast to address the crisis. It took a huge commercial hit in the short term, in order to earn consumer trust back in the long term.

Staff issues

Don’t forget about staff crises too. Strikes and layoffs lead to bad optics for a company. They create the impression of an ailing company that has lost the loyalty of its workforce. If these employees then go online to vent their frustrations, this can become a brand’s worst nightmare.

Because of the changing musical landscape in the new millennium, in 2013 British music and entertainment retailer HMV laid off many of its staff. Employees were given little warning of this move. Staff took over the brand’s main Twitter account to provide a running commentary in a deeply bitter tone. Instead of trying to control the message and reassert its brand image, the company simply deleted the tweets and failed to fully address the reasons for the redundancy. This made a bad crisis even worse.


A more recent type of crisis that companies have faced centers on the issue of disclosures. This is particularly important in the realm of influencer marketing. In some cases, influencers or brand ambassadors have not been sufficiently clear about the fact that they are taking part in marketing when they are promoting a particular brand. This can damage a brand and put its dishonesty on public display.

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Bill Phillips and Will Francis

Bill Phillips is an International Facilitator, Trainer, and Team Coach.

  • Has successfully coached CEOs, board members, directors, executive teams, and team leaders in public and private companies, NGOs, and UN organizations in 15 countries across four continents
  • Is the creator of Future-basing®, a highly potent process for building strategy, vision, and cooperation
  • Inspires people to build excellent interpersonal relationships and achieve their goals

In this module, Bill is the instructor for the ‘Conflict Management’ lesson.


Will Francis is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Trainer, and Speaker.

  • Educates and consults for senior marketers at the world’s leading brands
  • Ran a successful digital ad agency in London for eight years
  • Editor of social network MySpace in the 00s
  • Regularly appears at conferences, in press, TV, and radio to share his experience and expertise
  • Previous clients include Samsung, Spotify, Marriott Hotels, Warner Music, Penguin Books, and Net A Porter

In this module, Will is the instructor for the ‘Crisis Management’ lesson.

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

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    Dealing With Conflicts and Crises
    Bill Phillips and Will Francis
    Skills Expert

    Every leader will be faced with conflicts between team members from time to time. Some leaders have to deal with major crises too, where the company’s reputation – and sometimes its very survival – may be at stake. This module can help you respond effectively in such situations.

    You will learn how to manage workplace conflicts effectively when they break out. You will discover techniques you can use to deal with the warring parties and defuse their anger, as well as helping them to resolve their issues and find common ground.

    You will also be introduced to the principles of crisis management. You will find out about the types of crises that typically affect organizations, and how you can prepare for them in advance. You will also learn how to handle crises in the short term, and the steps you can take to repair damage and rebuild trust with your customers in the long term.