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.
Melissa, what do you find attractive or stimulating about crisis management? What drew you into it in the first place, and what kept/keeps you there?
Melissa Agnes Admin says
Great question, T! I was never drawn to the attributes I describe in this post / video. For me, it was never about the “sexiness” or the “thrill”. In fact, when I began in this profession it wasn’t “sexy” yet – it was a challenge to help professionals understand the need. Crisis management aligns with who I am as a human. It’s the way I’m wired; I am a crisis manager and I always have been, since as long as I can remember. That’s where my passion stems from. It’s just a fit that makes complete sense to and for me.
Dhyan Mayadas says
Great video…….succinct and to the point.
In addition to the well brought out points in the video, I would like to put across a few additional pointers to present and potential Crisis Management Advisors:
1. Walk through the POA (Plan of Action): Remember, forewarned is forearmed! Practice the senior management leadership in simulation exercises. One DOES NOT want to be learning the nuances of managing a crisis as it unfolds. When a crisis Does occur, the leaders that be, will be better positioned to handle the same.
2. Socialize a Flowchart: Diagramatic representation of process-flow is easy to remember.
3. SWOT Analysis: Sit down with the senior management and ask them what They feel/perceive/think are the major internal risks to their organisation. You with your better understanding of external risks, together with what the senior management have discussed, undertake a SWOT analysis and then brief the senior management on the various risks. Be honest and truthful. Then take them through a crisis simulation exercise.
I have ordered the book through Amazon………….am sure most of what you have mentioned in the video will be amply clear on reading through the same.
Melissa Agnes Admin says
Thanks for these great additional points, all of which are very important. I’m so glad to hear you’ve ordered the book! I look forward to hearing about your experience with it when you’re through.
Cheers to you and happy reading!
Desirae Mills says
Great article! I am actually new to the profession in a “consultant” sense, but have been the PIO for a hospital system involved in a nationally televised shooting, the spokesperson for a political candidate and the Director of Communications (which included crisis planning, management and communications) for a large franchise organization with 3,200 franchisees and 30,000 employees.
I have my first client and while I have built crisis management plans in the past, this is the first time I’m doing from the outside looking in, which has proven to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated.
That being said, I have ordered your book and am using my FEMA/Homeland Security PIO training as best I can. My concern is that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m not thorough enough or I’ll overlook something. I want my client to be as crisis ready as possible, so trying to think through every high-risk scenario, build applicable playbooks, outline escalation processes and roles/responsibilities is a bit overwhelming. I don’t want to overlook anything and put them at risk.
Which is why I appreciate your video. It makes me think “If I’m this concerned, I must be in the right profession.”
As always, thanks for your insight, guidance and industry leadership!
Melissa Agnes Admin says
Thank you for sharing this and let me say two things: firstly, congratulations on your new business direction and your new client! And secondly, your client (and future clients) is/are lucky to have you.
The fact that you’re taking your position and role so seriously and with such dedication and commitment is precisely what your clients need and will do wonders for you in this new career path.
Keep up the exceptional work and I wish you and your clients tremendous success!
Mario Ernesto Humberg says
Very good advice Melissa. I have seen many professionals offering their services as crisis management advisors with bad results due lack of experience. This occurs often when the problem results from inadequate management of natural resources or industrial processes.
Melissa Agnes Admin says
There are many reasons as to why and when this occurs, and it can be very frustrating to watch. I’m glad you enjoyed the article / video, and appreciate you taking the time to weigh in and share your experience.
Hopefully we can move forward in a progressive way that helps and empowers other professionals to serve organizations the way they deserve to be served.
Best to you,