Prior to the late 1960s, crisis handling was legally dominated by lawyers who were concerned exclusively with lawsuits. The communications strategies were designed to conceal rather than reveal. Today, companies see a crisis as a potential marketing issue with lasting effects beyond just an isolated event. Consequently, how a company handles a crisis creates a lasting impression that ultimately changes or supports the company's reputation.
Clarke L. Caywood, editor of The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communications, defines crisis communications as the preparation and application of the strategies and tactics that can prevent or modify the impact of major events on the company or organization. At best, it is a way of thinking and acting when everything "hits the fan." At its worst, it can be a life-threatening situation for a product, career or company.
Planning in advance of a crisis may be the prime determiner as to the depth and cost to a company's reputation and bottom line. Once an event occurs, there is no time for a considered, thoughtful approach. I highly recommend a crisis plan to, if possible, prevent a crisis. This approach can provide as a decision base and behavior path for all actions. The crisis plan should include a statement summarizing the company's philosophies and ethics.
An organization with a solid reputation will survive a crisis better than one without. The historical behavior of a company will strongly influence the stakeholders' perception of the company in a time of crisis.
Crisis management has three sequential objectives.