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crisis planning

Cleaning an emerging crisis


Cleaning an emerging crisis

Chipotle has gotten itself into pretty hot water lately, and it looks like the quick-service restaurant’s woes may be just beginning. Stock price has fallen by a third. Earnings per share estimates have been revised down, again. Federal investigators are knocking on the door. Loyal customers are sounding off. Surely company leaders are feeling sick. In classic public relations, this is a textbook emerging crisis.

An emerging crisis sounds less threatening than a “flash and bang” event. But experienced, strategic public relations practitioners will warn otherwise. Emerging crises can take a serious toll on a business.

It starts with an incident. Typically, that incident resulted from something that could either have been prevented or could be fixed with a policy change or shift in operations practice. Leaders may see it as an isolated case. No big deal.

Except it happens again. And maybe again. And once more – but this time on a much more public scale.

We counsel clients to beware of the emerging crisis. Here are tips for mitigating an emerging public relations crisis at the onset:

  • Take it seriously. Even an isolated incident is worthy of proper attention. It may never grow into a full-blown crisis, but the possibility certainly exists and can have damaging effects on your business.
  • Hire experienced communications counsel. If you are sued, you turn to a lawyer. A company has a team of CPAs to handle its taxes. When a crisis occurs – or better yet, to mitigate or prevent such an event – a professional crisis communicator can lead the company through best practices to preserve the business and protect its reputation.
  • Determine the root of the issue. Find out the cause and work quickly to resolve the problem for your customers, employees and stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the scale and scope of the problem. In a multi-location business, like Chipotle, it is probable that a similar event has occurred or could occur in the future. Communicate with the broader team to pinpoint how far the crisis could potentially reach.
  • Establish a forward-looking plan of action. Don’t apply a Band-Aid when a suture is needed. It’s important to set a long-term plan for holistically addressing the issue. Think about implications to each store, the corporate team, company stock and corporate reputation.
  • Maintain open communication. Throughout the process, share the company’s proactive approach to solving the problem. Show compassion and concern, and demonstrate your genuine desire to make it right. Authentic and open communication gives customers, employees and shareholders confidence that the issue will be resolved.

Hindsight is a luxury, not a guarantee. As a company leader, beware of the emerging crisis – and take actions to protect your brand and your position.

Photo by Michael Saechang, via Flickr



Are You Prepared for a Crisis?

As you may have seen on our social media pages, LPR has participated in two significant crisis response drills in the past two weeks. Since we specialize in communications for the oil and gas and transportation industries, these drills aren’t new to us. But, in our opinion, you can never be too prepared for a crisis. Crises aren’t exclusive to these higher risk industries. They come in all shapes and sizes, including data breaches, scandals, lawsuits and accidents that can affect any business. Here are a few things to keep in mind in preparing your business for a crisis.

Have a plan in place…and practice it at least twice a year. 

Crisis response plans are meaningless if they aren’t practiced, updated and shared with team members on a regular basis. Is your crisis plan on your company shared drive? Does everyone know where it is? Is it saved to your local computer in case the network goes down?

Designate a spokesperson…and a few backups.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to preparing and training a spokesperson. Make sure several of your key leaders are equipped to respond on a number of crisis scenarios and create a designated chain of command to eliminate uncertainty.

Know your key messages.

In a crisis event, every second counts. Develop key message points for potential crisis scenarios in advance, so you don’t have to waste precious time starting from scratch. Companies that communicate quickly and decisively under pressure appear much more in control of a situation than companies that stay silent in the hours immediately following an incident.

Don’t forget about logistics.

Do you have an emergency operations center or a place (other than your office) where you can organize your response team, speak to the media and plan your next move? Is it equipped with everything you need, including reliable Internet and backup connectivity? In one of the drill scenarios last week, we had to operate without cell phone service for about two hours. It wasn’t easy, but we came up with a few backup options that will be very helpful if we lose cell service during a real incident.


While it can be difficult to take time away from usual operations, planning for a crisis can save a business’ valuable time and money, as well as its reputation. Be prepared!