Spring Training For Crisis Management: Over-Preparing vs. Overreacting


By Dennis Culloton

After Donald Trump’s Twitter rants and video leaks and Samsung’s exploding phone, people tell me, “Hey (that company in trouble) needs you for crisis communications,” or they ask “How would you like to be Trump’s PR guy?”

It makes for fun talk at the tailgate or cocktail party. But to make a real difference for the Donald or Samsung, or any other celebrity, politician or brand, you need to think about how you would handle a crisis long before your latest tweet, video or smart phone smolders.

That’s not to say that lawyers and crisis communicators can’t or won’t help clients who are already engulfed in a public relations flameout. I once got hired by a lawyer emailing from an airplane after learning her client had just been raided by federal law enforcement. We love the challenge of tackling client’s problems when the odds are against us. But the mission is often one of mitigating the harm that will befall them, their business, their reputations and perhaps their liberty.

Following the example of my favorite leader, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, we can all use a spring training to work on our team’s defensive fundamentals, hitting and pitching. Over-preparing beats overreacting.

A law school classmate working in a corporate law department was once tasked with reviewing every federal and state law the company could violate. That is an extreme example of preparedness, but I commend the company for the thought.

I recommend beginning by preparing for the biggest threats you may face. More often than not, these are self-inflicted wounds – flippant responses to the media or investors; social media blunders (especially 3 a.m. tweets); cutting corners despite safety risks or illegality.

The law of unintended consequences is a frequent source of public relations crises. Wouldn’t Wells Fargo like to have the opportunity to look at how a sales incentive program could go wrong?

Technology has revolutionized our life. But it does malfunction. Samsung is experiencing the worst-case scenario – a crisis management plan that made the initial problem worse. The phones were recalled after exploding and then their replacements were recalled.

President Trump has redefined the notion of going around the mainstream media by tweeting to his 20 million followers. But he and his team have had to expend energy walking back or spinning the meaning of late night tweets. Despite it’s immediacy, strategy should guide social media communications as well. It should be built around an executive’s strengths and weaknesses and can foresee and reduce risk. Many entrepreneurs, business executives and politicians revert back to what they think made them great – especially under pressure – unless they develop new muscle memory.

Spending time in a training camp can help prevent disaster – the best type of crisis communications. Thinking about a comprehensive response before the tweet is sent or the smart phone implodes can help tamp down the flames faster.

Dennis Culloton is the founder, CEO and president of Culloton Strategies LLC, a boutique public relation firm that specializes in crisis communications, public affairs and media relations. For more information, visit www.cullotonstrategies.com.