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This week the focus is on avoiding trouble. 

What type of trouble? Well, pretty much any type… but in particular a PR disaster, also known as a crisis.

The best way to stop one of these is to catch it before it gets out of hand. Classic models of crisis management, and almost every blog that recycles other people’s intellectual property on the topic, refer typically to four stages of crisis management. There are almost always some version of the following: 

  1. Prevention 
  2. Preparation 
  3. Management 
  4. Recovery 

One academic, Dr Robert Chandler, also identified two earlier stages: early warning and risk assessment. While that's a more useful model than the simpler four-stage model it is still, in my view, unambitious.

Why? Because neither model addresses the most strategic option - in a window of time and opportunity - to preempt a crisis versus just preventing one.

Figure 1 - Crisis management model by Dr. Robert ChandlerFigure 1 - Crisis management model by Dr. Robert Chandler

Figure 2 - Crisis management model by BlueChip CommunicationFigure 2 - Crisis management model by BlueChip


The best window to prevent, minimise or prepare for a crisis is the one that shuts as soon as you have an inkling it’s about to happen.  

This is the window during which there’s no live issue, no early warning sign, and you’re not actively considering that a PR disaster might be about to strike or even on the horizon.  

This is the window in which the CEO, Board and leadership team have both time and thinking space without pressure. In this window, seasoned crisis managers and executive teams think beyond today’s events to pre-empt and avoid trouble altogether.  

It’s also in this window that leadership teams can think about the challenges they face above the level at which those challenges were created. It's here that you can execute game-changer strategies that are simply not possible in the heat of a crisis or with time pressure.  

These are things like choosing, decades before you need to, to shift your entire business into renewables if you’re a fossil fuels company. Or re-tooling a manufacturing organisation with a large labour force for a future that’s more automated and less dependent on human labour.

Or it might include planning for such unlikely scenarios as a pandemic.

That might mean making sure you have a business model, business continuity plan and crisis management approach that you can instantly stand up in such an unlikely event.

Why is pre-emption not taught as a crisis management strategy? 

I don't exactly know the answer to this but I suspect this strategy isn't taught as a phase of crisis management because it requires three things that are in short supply in most leadership teams. Those are:

  1. Time, or duration of planning and action: the luxury or scope to think beyond a month, a quarter or a year - to years and decades 
  2. Strategic thinking: above and beyond today’s issues and challenges to "game changer" strategies and...
  3. Enough crisis experience to realise that prevention is better than cure is understated (according to Warren Buffet). 

How do you use pre-emption? 

Put simply, you look beyond today’s issues. We help our clients look at the "outer ring" such as:

  • Outlier stakeholders and counterparties
  • Black swan events, the very low probability, often unprecedented, high impact events like 9/11 or COVID
  • Other more predictable but rare events such as the 1 percenters – the 1 in 100 scenarios like natural disasters or hostage situations.  

All this requires being ambitious in your choice of problem to solve, and how well to solve it.  

Perhaps that's the reason pre-empting isn't taught as a crisis management strategy.

Maybe we’re just not ambitious enough in our choice of problem to solve yet.

This blog was originally published in our fortnightly email, Take a beat Tuesday. To get these direct to your inbox before they're published, subscribe here

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here. 

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