Guest Blog: How to Lose the Crisis Response Game in Ten Easy Steps

Hinda Mitchell

As someone who supports businesses and organizations in responding to crisis, I find myself regularly watching how crises unfold. In evaluating some recent crisis responses, I identified some more common mistakes made in the heat of the moment. Here is a snapshot of 10 of the many ways to disrupt a successful crisis response:

  1. Wait too long to respond – Not getting out early can make coming back from crisis a Herculean effort, especially in the world of online news and social media. Waiting creates a void that is filled – swiftly – by others, who likely will not represent your crisis the way you would. Try to engage within the “golden hour” – or the first 60 minutes. Playing catchup is difficult.
  2. Too many cooks in the kitchen – Have a crisis team and stick with it. Make sure everyone’s role is well defined. When too many organizations or departments are weighing in, the opportunity for consistency and efficiency is lost.
  3. Everyone is in charge (see #2) – When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge, and that becomes readily apparent to your audience. It also creates disjointed messaging and decreases confidence.
  4. Repeat the negative – So often, organizations answer questions by repeating the negative (think: “I am not a crook.”). Even when the question asked assumes the negative, such as, “Did your security procedures fail?” avoid the instinct to say, “No, our security procedures did not fail.” Instead, say, for example: “Our security procedures were followed to the letter.”
  5. Let others define the crisis (see #1) – First rule of crisis response: keep the audience looking at you for accurate information. Delays in information allow others to establish what the crisis is – and isn’t.
  6. Fail to engage key stakeholders and partners – When facing a crisis, there are many with whom you may need to engage. Connect early with law enforcement, public safety, regulators, elected officials and others – assure you are on similar pages in how you respond and what is said.
  7. Use language that is considered “stock” – In a crisis, audiences want to hear authentic, heartfelt comments. Avoid traditional “PR-speak” like “our thoughts and prayers are with…” that today can ring tone-deaf.
  8. Neglect to prepare your spokesperson – Nothing destroys trust and confidence more quickly than a spokesperson who is not believable or who appears to be less than fully engaged and informed. If you are going to put them in front of the media – make sure they’re ready.
  9. Post infrequently on social media platforms – Again, in a 24/7 world of news and information sharing, you must post and monitor social media early and often. Human nature says audiences will take to social media to learn what is happening – and misinformation and accurate information travel at the same speed.
  10. Be cold and calculated – Don’t forget, in the heat of the moment, to care. Often, for fear of liability, the initial crisis response lacks connection and emotion. Including values and emotion (used judiciously) in your message will increase authenticity and give your audience a reason to believe what you tell them.

Successful crisis response is well-prepared, thorough and strategic. Avoiding these mistakes will help position the response appropriately. What would you add to this list? Feel free to share others as well.

Hinda Mitchell is the president and founder of Inspire PR Group, a national communications firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Hinda and the Inspire team provide ongoing communications counsel to national corporations, state and national trade associations, advocacy groups, restaurants, education organizations, non-profit groups and companies of all sizes. She can be reached at or at 614-532-5279.

Hinda Mitchell