5 Crisis Management Tips Learned from March Madness

This is a refresh of a previous blog post. I’ve come up with a few more insights about the parallels between crisis management and college basketball.

Forget the Super Bowl or the World Series. For me, the most exciting time in sports is March. That’s because it’s almost time for college basketball’s March Madness! I love that every team in the NCAA basketball tournament – big or small – has a shot at greatness, at least for “one shining moment.” After all, I am a sucker for a good Cinderella story.

I’m always amazed by how much teams must endure to make it to the Final Four and ultimately win a national championship. It’s like being in constant crisis mode. Which got me thinking, are there crisis management lessons to be learned from March Madness?

Keeping with the theme of five – since five players from each team must be on the court at all times – here are my top five crisis tips learned from March Madness:

  1.  Prepare for the Opposition. All great coaches know that in order to beat your opponent, you must prepare for your opponent. The same holds true in crisis management. Organizations should conduct crisis audits to identify all the crises they could face and prepare for them accordingly. Unfortunately, far too many organizations neglect crisis planning in favor of other initiatives. While it can take years to build a reputation, it only takes a few minutes to destroy one. You should never be caught without a good playbook during a crisis.
  2. Have a Deep Bench. As part of your crisis management planning, it’s important to assemble a crisis response team that represents every department that may be impacted by a crisis and train them. Simulate various crises and run drills at least once or twice a year. Use these training sessions to determine how your crisis plan should be updated or modified.
  3. Control the Ball. During a crisis, it’s imperative that you control the flow of information. For the sake of my March Madness metaphor, I’ll refer to this as “controlling the ball.” Particularly when dealing with the media during a crisis, be very clear about when you will provide updates. This is extremely important for making sure you “feed the media beast” with the pertinent information they need, while not becoming completely consumed with responding to the onslaught of media inquiries.
  4. Quickness Counts. In basketball, quickness counts. It also counts in crisis management. The first 48 hours of any crisis are the most critical. The reason many companies fail to manage a crisis properly is because they don’t react quickly, especially with communications. If you don’t communicate quickly, a communications void will be created. If you don’t fill it, someone else will. However, the information they provide may be inaccurate or incomplete. It’s better to say something quickly during a crisis than to say nothing at all. It may be tempting to delay communicating during a crisis by saying “no comment” or just staying silent. All that does is make it easier for the media and the public to assume the worst.
  5. Shoot From the Outside. The three-point shot revolutionized college basketball. Former Tulane Coach Perry Clarks said that the three-point shot has allowed the mid-majors to better compete with the big guys in college basketball, because players who shoot from the outside can often offset the size and athleticism of their bigger opponents. In crisis communications, shooting from the outside means seeking an outsider’s perspective. Internal politics tend to take over during a crisis. Good leaders anticipate internal politics and counter that by bringing in someone from the outside who can look at the issues without bias. The outsider’s role is not to call the shots or coach during a crisis, but to provide counsel and give an organization a perspective that few company insiders can offer.

Want more crisis management tips? Check out this white paper by Brian Ellis, CRT/tanaka’s executive vice president and leader of our crisis consultancy.


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