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3 Types of Crisis Communications Clients and How to Help Them

They say bad things always come in threes. But for those of us who love the art and science of issues management, the three types of crisis communications clients offer exciting challenges.

If you feel apprehensive about tackling a stock-price melting, social media tsunami, fear not, we at BIG YAM are here to break down each of the three types of crisis communications clients, their needs and how best to support them.

Crisis communications clients can best be described in three personas: The Planners, The Optimist and FBPM (full-blown panic mode).

The Planners

If you fail to plan, plan to fail. Ben Franklin’s sage advice is often a driving motto of our Planner persona, and for good reason. They may have faced a previous crisis communications situation that left them flat footed and searching for a battle plan. Or, they may be keen observers of news, social media and consumer feedback channels, and understand the significant impact reputation management can have on an organization’s overall brand and valuation.

Either way, appreciate the heck out of your Planners and show them support with a killer crisis communications plan that is actionable and easy to implement when the time arrives. Need some help getting started? Here’s an article I wrote recently that provides a step-by-step guide to crisis scenario planning.

Questions They Have

– How do I convince my C-Suite this plan is important?
– How do I operationalize a crisis communications plan?
– What will happen if I don’t have this plan in place and the crap hits the fan?

Their Mindset

– They regularly work on the company SWOT analysis
– They see themselves as an integral part of the organization’s business
– Issues and crises don’t scare them (that much) because they know their customer base and how to communicate with them
– They’ve laid the groundwork with the C-suite that a good offense is the best defense to protect the company in times of crisis

How to Help

– Brainstorm crisis scenarios with them so that they leave no stone unturned
– Identify people within the organization who are critical to implementing a crisis plan, and think outside of communications, e.g. human resources, manufacturing, call center and customer support channel managers
– Partner with them on their plan development and know how that plan can affect their day-to-day marketing communications activities – especially if you are the agency crew executing on these efforts
– Help run through drills to ensure the plan is truly operational when the time comes

Help your clients make crisis communications plan in advance so everyone is on the same page when crisis do occur.

The Optimist

We are good people, providing a good product/service. Nothing bad will happen. Hmmm, tell that to the good folks at Skittles, who, through no fault of their own, were thrown into a spotlight when their brand became associated with the Syrian refugee crisis last year. Skittles didn’t ask to trend on twitter. But you better believe they had a good plan to address this negative publicity.

Often, the Optimist persona would prefer to pretend like nothing is going to happen. Or if it does, it won’t be all that bad and they can simply ignore the media/customers/constituents and it will all go away in time.

In looking at the rapid pace with which media and the public share news, and how this information (whether 100 percent factual or not) can hijack your brand, it’s time for the Optimist to become a Realist. If your business deals with the public, in any way shape or form, it is only a matter of time before you face an issue that can derail your reputation. As communications professionals, we need to encourage the Optimists to join Team Planner!

Questions They Have

– What’s the point in having a plan if every situation is unique?
– Why should I allocate part of my marketing budget for something that doesn’t impact the bottom line?
– Can’t I just say, “no comment” if media calls?

Their Mindset

– If anything bad happens, which I don’t think it will, we will just deal with the issue at that time
– My marketing budget is strapped already and I don’t want this to eat into it
– Our attorneys are strict and usually won’t let us say anything

How to Help

– Encourage them to simply craft several holding statements as these can be a great jumping off point for any issue
– Share with them case studies and reports showing the very direct correlation between a brand’s reputation and its valuation
– Be prepared to jump in and assist in the event of a crisis – they will need all the help they can get

No brand can ever assume they will be safe from brand crisis situations.


The news van is here. HELP! Full-blown panic mode happens to the best of companies. It is how they handle the first 24 minutes, NOT 24 hours, that will determine the outcome of the issue. Fingers crossed there is strong leadership at the helm who trusts his or her communications professionals, as they are often the best guide for navigating these tricky waters.

Word of caution: When the FBPM clients call you, now is not the time to lecture them on the benefits of having a crisis communications plan. Rather, as you work through the crisis with them, ensure you are building tools and messaging that will allow them to easily and effectively build a plan in the near future. Remember, your Planner clients may have started out in FBPM.

Questions They Have

– What is going to happen to my business/clients/customers?
– How am I going to fix this?
– Why didn’t I see this coming?
– Could we have done anything to prevent this issue?

Their Mindset

– They often feel they have no control over the situation
– They are looking for answers and solutions, quickly
– There are likely thinking of the worst-case scenarios and may become immobilized with fear

How to Help

– Insist they share absolutely EVERYTHING with you. You can’t help strategize a solution if you don’t know the full extent of the problems.
– Develop immediate statements for your audiences and share with them what you can at that moment in time – even if it is only to tell them that you are working to understand the extent of the issue
– Work with your client to continually communicate and update audiences so they come to expect a consistent stream of information
– Watch the news and online information like a hawk to follow the conversation
– When the dust settles, encourage the client to do a post mortem to identify ways to help ensure this issue doesn’t happen again, and if it does, how best to respond

When the news trucks show up, it’s how they handle the first 24 minutes, NOT 24 hours, that will determine the outcome of the issue.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with all three categories of crisis clients and learned a great deal from every situation. The number one takeaway is that, regardless of which crisis stage a client finds themselves in, they deserve expert help and support – whether that’s a crack internal team or a crisis communications agency like BIG YAM – to navigate and mitigate the crisis and come out on the other side.

Have an interesting issues management key learning of your own to share? Tell us about it! We love to hear from other communications professionals in the trenches.