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Handling Crisis

Question: Whether in day-to day business or on a shoot or just with an unexpected mistake, it seems there’s also a chance something can go terribly wrong on an account.  Are there any guidelines on how to deal with a crisis?

Answer: While every crisis will undoubtedly have its own set of unique circumstances and variables, there are some common principles that can be applied.

First, do not panic or freak out, even if others around you do.  Your team and the client are looking to you to see how serious the problem is, and to take control of the situation, and address the problem and restore normalcy. 
And of course, it stands to reason that you are not going to do your best and clearest thinking on how to solve the problem if you are in panic mode. That said, you should also never dismiss the importance of a true crisis, because it will appear that either you don’t care or are not savvy enough to recognize the severity of the situation.

Second, gather all the facts, input and knowledge – chart the crisis – as quickly as you can.  Speed is important to be able to take quick command of the situation.  But it must be balanced with getting sufficient information to enable you to get a full understanding so you can make informed decision.

Once you land in a plan or action to address the crisis, balance it off knowledgeable and trusted constituencies.  You may be responsible for “solving” the crisis, but you’re not in it alone.  Share your proposed solution with your boss or your colleagues or someone whose opinion or acumen you respect.  And don’t get hung up on your solution as the only one that can work.  Be open to suggestions that can improve your thinking or even change it radically.

Before you make a final/formal solution recommendation, play some “war games”.  Go through the exercise of thinking through things like:

  • How will your recommendation be received by the client?
  • Will this recommendation put the client in the best possible light?
  • What is Plan B, if the recommendation doesn’t work?
  • Are you prepared to review the other considered and rejected solutions and say why they’ve been rejected?

Whether your solution works or doesn’t work, learn from it.  Write it up as a case history or file memo so others can learn from it.

Truth be told, you can’t learn how to handle a crisis by reading an e-mail about it.  You have to experience it.  I hope this helps to prepare you for the experience.



Bruce Kelley

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