Crisis ‘cycle’ demonstrates need for pre-arranged crisis plan


CJR, the bible of traditional journalism, published a story that will not surprise crisis managers, but should make it a little clearer to our clients why you need a crisis plan in place before trouble starts. [Thanks to my EMA partner Rick Lyke for snagging this one.]
Focusing on the IRS-Tea Party scandal of last spring, Brendan Nyhan documents how coverage of the allegations in Politico, The New York Times and The Washington Post began hot and heavy, hit intense periods, and then evaporated.

Lesson? If you’re not ready for the first hours of a crisis — responding transparently, pushing out facts and monitoring social media — it’s too late and you’ll play ineffective catch up.

The problem is what we might call the “scandal attention cycle.” George Washington University political scientist Danny Hayes has described how the “issue attention cycle” results in a surge in news coverage of a new issue like gun control, followed by a fairly rapid decline, which received increased attention after the Sandy Hook massacre but ultimately trailed off, following a similar trajectory to previous high-profile shootings. A similar pattern often occurs for scandal—there’s a surge in initial interest as reporters rush to embrace the scandal narrative, but the press quickly loses interest after the most sensational charges are not substantiated. The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out. By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.

The logic here is unassailable — and it applies to local, regional, national or international scandals. If you’re not ready, if a structure and decision-making process is not created, vetted and practiced in advance, a crisis will overwhelm your efforts if you start from scratch.

Only in the calm of an average day can you plan and think clearly about all eventualities a crisis might present. School systems can prepare for bus accidents, school fires or shootings; city police chiefs and mayors can expect terrorist attacks; airlines gameplay plane crashes; and so on.

Simple, right? A survey of marketing executives by EMA and B2B Magazine nonetheless found that 57 percent said their company did not have a pre-set crisis reaction and management plan in place.

More than half of companies, therefore, put their reputations and market value at significant risk by not planning ahead.

In real terms? BP suffered a market value loss of $53 billion in the year following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This does not include cleanup, repair, legal or punitive costs, according to Oxford Metrica Reputation Review.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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