Thanks to high-profile crises, viral issues, and fun television series like Scandal, crisis management is being seen more and more as a “sexy” and thrilling profession or service offering.
While the allure is understandable—from the outside, I realize it can look like a fast-paced, exciting career filled with adventure and heroism—what I’m seeing more and more is that this image and allure is presenting a high-risk scenario to many organizations.
Crisis management advisors and consultants are not supposed to be the risk. We’re supposed to mitigate, prevent, and help our clients successfully overcome the risk.
What makes me say this?
I’ve found myself frustrated as of late, with how often I’m approached by organizations that express one of the following three grievances with me:
- They were given poor advice in the midst of a breaking crisis or viral issue that led to impactful consequences for the brand and/or its stakeholders.
- Their current crisis management firm is not delivering practical deliverables.
- They distrust crisis management firms and advisors as a result of having been taken advantage of in the past.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am well aware that these grievances are not unique to this profession. But these are the grievances that I’ve been seeing, and this is my profession and I care. I care about the important work I do as a crisis management advisor, and I care that the current allure of “sexy” or “thrilling” is impacting organizations in a negative way.
The work we do should not be taken lightly
Olivia Pope’s life is glamorous. It is also fictitious. Glorified for entertainment’s sake.
The reality is that when crisis strikes, people’s lives can be put in jeopardy, the environment—our planet—can be put in harm’s way, and our clients’ long-standing, well-earned reputations and businesses are put at risk. This is the reality of the work crisis management advisors are faced with. These are the risks of the scenarios we are presented with, and we are hired and trusted to know what we’re doing and to help guide and support our clients, whether in response to incidents or in preparation for them.
When it comes to viral issues, we’re entrusted to help de-escalate the situation and guide our clients to make decisions, take actions, and communicate in ways that foster trust, rather than depreciate from it.
I absolutely love my profession and I take the responsibility seriously. Therefore, when organizations come to me with half-assed programs that do not work in practice, with long-lasting impact on their stakeholders, reputation, and bottom line as a result of inadequate advice and guidance, or when leaders are reluctant to take the necessary actions that will help them because of past experiences, I get frustrated. Frustrated for these organizations because they deserve better.
A few thoughts to help mitigate this high-risk for your clients
I don’t believe that any of this is a result of a con or ill-intent. I think it’s a result of professionals wanting to help but simply not having the experience or expertise to serve in the ways that are essential to their clients. The result is good intentions that lead to a disservice to organizations that deserve better.
That being said, if you offer crisis management or crisis communication services as part of your practice, I have three proposed requests for you:
1: Understand the risk that comes with this profession
What happens when you give faulty advice to a client in need? What happens when the crisis management “plan” you develop is not practical and results in less-than-seamless application when time is of the essence? What happens to your reputation when these risks materialize, and what are the repercussions to your clients?
Before you decide to nonchalantly add these services to your website and offerings, reflect on the real expertise you bring to the table in these highly impactful moments. Know the risks, take them seriously, and put measures in place to mitigate them. That is, after all, your job.
2: Choose to provide this service for the right reasons
Don’t choose this profession for its “sexy” or “thrilling” allure. Choose it because you:
- have a talent and expertise that will provide wonderful value to your clients in their most challenging moments; and
- because you really truly want to serve, for all the right reasons.
3: Honestly own your strengths and find solutions to compliment any identified gaps
The umbrella of crisis management and crisis preparedness is vast. It’s perfectly fine to know that you bring a specific value to the table and to put your efforts into truly excelling at and owning that valuable service. In fact, I recommend this. I’m a strong believer that the more niche-focused you are, the more successful you become. I’ve built my career this way.
For example, while I’m certified to provide media training services to clients, I choose not to. Instead, I have partnered with outstanding high-stakes media training professionals who provide this service day-in and day-out to their high-profile clients. Professionals who are far more talented than I am at this type of training and have proven track records of success. I turn to these professionals to provide my clients with this important service when I identify it as a need.
There’s nothing wrong with owning your strengths and focusing on being the best at what you do. There is something wrong, however, if you try to do it all when you don’t have the expertise to deliver adequately, or if you aren’t clear with your clients and, as a result, leave them exposed to otherwise preventable risk. I, unfortunately, see the latter happening far too often and it does a needless disservice to organizations and a needless disservice to the crisis management profession.
We need more crisis ready professionals
In my opinion, we need more specialized crisis management professionals doing wonderful work to help organizations become crisis ready. However, we also need these professionals to know and own the risk and responsibility that comes with the job. This profession is definitely exciting. It is also highly impactful and that impact should be positive, not negative.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.