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Crises Always Hit At The Level Of The Brand

Screenshot via - Free Educational Resources for Government Lesson Planning

It's a common mistake when it comes to crisis thinking. You see the situation nearsightedly. From a single instance outward, rather than from the outside in.

Consider government. You may think that one agency has little to do with another, and you may be right. But when a crisis hits, every agency becomes the same.

This is because crises always hit at the level of the brand. In the eyes of the American public, the brand is the government in its totality - the collective mush of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial; the civil servants and the "politicals" alike.

Thus a crisis response that is partial cannot ever be effective. Because the brand in its totality is "government" - all of it.

This is easy to see when you think of brands in the private sector. But it's difficult when your brand is not a "brand" in the traditional, fast-moving-consumer-goods sense. 

Nevertheless, it's the reality that people nowadays think in terms of branding. Unless you respond to an issue at the level where the brand resides, your response is ineffective.

Screenshot via

Crises Are Always Predictable

There's this girl we know. Well actually, knew. Committed suicide by train. 

Saw that one coming a mile away.

It's not that I would have used the word "suicide." But "troubled" came into my brain whenever I thought of her. (Occasionally.)

A lifelong celebrity gossip hound, watcher of Donahue and then Oprah, raised in a world largely made up of women, I am highly attuned to drama. And talk of relationship crises. 

It is never a thing that comes by surprise.

I have studied politics, media and PR through the lens of branding for many years. It feels like my whole life.

One thing I've learned: Usually when the scandal does break, it breaks slowly. People don't see it for what it is at the time. It may even be out in the open.

And then suddenly it becomes "a thing."

The way to see crisis is not incidentally -- one thing at a time and not judged by order of magnitude. What you're looking for are patterns -- cracks in an otherwise clean facade.

Those little cracks, accepted as normal and repeated over time, become what we know later as dangerous crises.

The devil is in the details, and that's why you have to sweat them. Even if they seem unimportant at the time.

As always, all opinions are my own. Photo by me.


The 10 Key Components of Crisis Communication

The biggest mistake you can make with a crisis is not to expect one to happen in the first place.
Here are 10 elements that should be common to any crisis communication plan:
1. Transparency: Make information and documentation available as much as possible.
2. Accountability: Leadership "owns" the problem, apologies are made, and person/s responsible are disciplined.
3. Immediacy: There is very little pause between incoming questions and outgoing answers.
4. Rationality: There is no handwringing or drama but rather an objective provision of information.
5. Neutrality: Absence of ideological or other bias - only the truth matters.
6. Objective Third Party: Someone with no stake in the game is empowered to investigate and bring findings.
7. Accessibility: Firsthand witnesses and participants are made available to answer questions.
8. Legality: An attorney explains to the public what they have a right to know and what information may not be shared.
9. Interactivity: Genuine back-and-forthing between the institution and the inquiring minds who want to know.
10. Positivity: Negative situations are also teachable moments - therefore emphasize progress and the way forward.

We Are So Addicted To The Idea That Consistency Is Linear

I am weird, yes and I took this photo through the windowpane of someone's trunk, in a parking lot.

The reason I took the photo was that the chart caught my attention. It is not the first time I've seen people literally carrying around these kind of diagram charts in their trunks.

Possibly people in the Washington, D.C. metro area carry these things around because they are wonky policy types or academics very frequently. Maybe they have briefings on the Hill that just can't wait. Or they're consultants who want to show a process in play.

Whatever the scenario I look at these charts and I have to laugh. Because my life is not linear, my mind is not linear and neither is the life or mind of anyone I know.

It is true that I try to break things down into repeatable steps. In fact this is a lot of what I do at work. But I have found over time that steps and processes do not work they way they look on paper. In reality people work in a completely non-linear fashion, for at least five reasons:

  • The linear types and the non-linear types have to work together, so you can't have straight linear.
  • Creativity has a logic but it is not linear, and you need creativity to innovate.
  • The world of networking and relationships relies often on "workarounds" to make abstract procedures work in a practical way. 
  • As leadership changes, work culture changes.
  • External factors like technology, the strategic environment, even the workstyle of new recruits influence the way existing procedures are implemented.
All of this matters for branding - a lot - because we tend to think of consistency as McDonald's hamburger patties coming out similarly each and every time.

The truth is branding nowadays must have inner consistency as often as outer. That is, the brand should "feel like" you even if it does not literally look or sound the same way every time.

The best conveyor of a brand is always the human being. And human beings are always quirky, unpredictable and imperfect - that's the very best part of us, and it's the part that great brands capture consistently. 

The very best exemplar of this kind of branding today? The Kardashians - who, if you really watch carefully, have this narrative formula down pat.