Clean living won't immunize you. Luck is no help. Ducking and covering never works. Blaming others is hopeless. Face facts, you and your company will experience a reputation-threatening crisis at some point in your career.
If you've already lived through one, a second or third will hit any day. All the odds favor it. With video cameras everywhere, audio recorders at the push of a smartphone button, and people intent on sharing and even “liking” your misery, face reality: a crisis looms in your future.
We don't mean a winning lottery ticket or the Publishers Clearing House knock on the door. We mean, as Billy Bob Thornton's character Dan Truman said about the ramifications of the killer asteroid in the 1998 blockbuster movie Armageddon, “basically the worst parts of the Bible.”
Or so it will seem to you, your shareholders, your employees, your customers, and your critics. Skeptical? Ask BP, Enron, or the National Football League.
Carrying forth the metaphor, build a bomb shelter and stock it well in advance with what you will need to survive an attack. Crisis train your team. Game play your worst corporate nightmare(s). Figure out in the pre-crisis calm a variety of worst-case scenarios and answer every question about each that you can. Take turns playing the indicted co-conspirator.
A crisis manager uses not only experience to guide, but assets: lists of moves to make or not to make; strategies and decisions to choose; time-tested checklists and formats. Crisis managers guide your team in unity just as an accountant or lawyer might.
This isn't a sales pitch; it's an appeal to logic and common sense. Because when a crisis hits, those two elements of everyday procedure go MIA and might not revisit your office again for weeks or months.
If the team you choose is strong, and you listen and act on the advice it provides, your crisis duration will constrict. If you try to fix it without advanced planning and wing it, your CEO will leave for a sailing weekend 4,000 miles away while the asteroid bears down.
Crisis planning costs a few bucks. Doing it well and correctly costs more - because your reputation is priceless.
Steve Bell is partner and director of public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates. Read his blog here.