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Crisis: When plans go wrong

‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’    Mike Tyson


Spot the difference:

Virgin’s space vehicle crashes in the Mojave. A pilot is killed. Within hours Branson is on his way there, tweeting as he goes. He arrives and delivers a creditable statement to camera.

Passengers film and post a Rolls-Royce engine in flames. It’s QANTAS’ first-ever serious incident, so big news. Rolls-Royce say nothing. For days. Eventually their silence becomes the story.

Both companies work in aviation, so the possibility of a fatal accident is on the cards. One was ready to speak to the media and the public. Branson did and said the right thing. We sympathised.

The other went into a corporate trance. They had nothing to say and no-one to say it. A further nail in Rolls-Royce’s  reputational coffin.

A crisis is by definition a surprise. Handled competently, it can, paradoxically, enhance a company’s credibility – which leads to what all companies want: better sales, higher margins, increased market share, a stronger share-price.

Handled badly – or ignored – a crisis produces the effects that boards fear most: lower sales, thinner margins, dwindling market-share (Perrier, anyone?) and a loss of support among investors.

We all know this. How come so many firms, from Thomas Cook to RBS, from Merck to United, get caught flat-footed when something unpleasant happens?

It’s been called the ‘illusion of corporate invincibility’. According to a BM survey 50 per cent of Europe’s largest firms are trapped in this fantasy: they have no crisis communications plans at all.

Our clients might not be the largest firms in Europe but we meet this delusion every day. ‘It can’t happen to us’.

Mike Tyson’s advice makes sense. Clients can plan everything down to the last decimal point, but if fate lands a punch out of nowhere, they’d better be prepared.

It’s not rocket science. What might happen? What we will do and what will we say? Who will say it?

Boards who fail to prepare for the worst are falling short in their duty to shareholders and stakeholders.

‘It can’t happen to us’.


Yes, it can.