Crisis Response Starts at the Top

When working with newly-named chief executive officers, we often hear them wishing for a quiet, clean entry into their new role. But being challenged right at the onset can be a blessing. In fact, when the first few days, weeks or months include managing a crisis, a CEO can leave his or her mark immediately.

How you manage that crisis will either elevate you as a leader or burden you for the rest of your days at the organization — perhaps for the rest of your career.

Padilla has created “A CEO’s Survival Guide to Crisis Management,” a playbook intended to be a quick reference guide of best practices in a crisis.

Your values

We start with values. Over several decades of working in crisis management, our team has come to understand that a company’s values are the most important tool in managing an issue.

Your values help you choose the right course of action when your options are few. Actions taken based on them are hard to argue with. Your values are the glue that holds your organization together during a crisis. When you violate those values, you’re diving deeper and deeper into trouble and eroding your core culture, erasing who you really are as both a leader and a company.

Make sure you review and fully understand your company’s values when waters are calm. That will help you hold them close when the seas get rough.

Whether you’re new to the job or a seasoned veteran — being prepared to guide your organization in times of crisis is critical.Click To Tweet


In times of crisis, people look for leadership. Leaders should be visible to the staff, not hiding behind closed doors.

A good leader in a crisis needs some essential skills. You must be able to tune out the noise and chaos and focus on the core issues at hand.

You often don’t have all the details you would like, but a good leader acts based on what they do know — not on what they don’t. No action is often the worst action.

You must have a sense of urgency and must not allow yourself to be frozen by analysis. Trust and listen to your core leadership.

Most importantly, keep running the business.

Two courts

We’ve all heard that there are two courts: the court of law and the court of public opinion. In a crisis, both matter.

The court of law views you as innocent until proven guilty.

Legal counsel tends to focus on the court of law, which often leads to a “say nothing” mindset and a slow process, which can keep your crisis in the public eye for years. Disregard the advice of counsel, and you might face a large fine or even jail time.

The court of public opinion finds you guilty until believed innocent. As such, communication counsel often advises you to take swift action to minimize the damage. Disregard the court of public opinion, and you may stay away from the courthouse but wind up in the dog house according to your customers.

Your job as CEO is to weigh both courts. Consider your key stakeholders while following your values and make the call.

Restoring the brand

Never forget that the crisis isn’t over until the brand has been restored. Communication is critical. Define what the damage is — that means conduct research in the marketplace with your key stakeholders. You may think you know the extent of the damage, but knowing the damage caused by the event is important.

Remember that your personal brand may have been damaged as well. Engage with your internal team. This may help prevent a mass exodus among employees if the issue is severe.

Get outside help. A fresh set of eyes can be very helpful when you are developing your moving-forward plan.

When our team presents at conferences on the topic of crisis, we ask folks to raise their hand if they’re perfect. Yes, we sometimes get a handful of brave (albeit misguided) souls who are — or think they are — perfect, but for the rest of us, no organization can make that claim. However, you can be prepared for when a crisis hits.

This article originally appeared in O’Dwyer’s, January 2019 – PR Buyer’s Guide & Crisis Communications Issue. 

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