The C.R.I.S.I.S model of crisis management

Go Luck Yourself - 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand's favour

This month Andy Nairn, Founder of Lucky Generals, launches his first book. Go Luck Yourself, which contains '40 ways for you to stack the odds in your brand’s favour'. In this exclusive piece he takes all of that research and knowledge and applies it to managing a crisis. 

The C.R.I.S.I.S. model of crisis managementGo Luck Yourself front cover

It’s now 12 months since Covid-19 arrived in the UK. And although we’re still in the thick of it, we’ve also had long enough to develop some perspective for the first time. In particular, we can now see that some businesses have coped with misfortune much better than others – and not just because of the sector they’re in. So I thought this might be a good time to capture what we’ve learnt so far – not only from the current pandemic but from previous crises.

Cutting to the chase, I believe the combined evidence shows the importance of doing six things well. Namely, Clarify, Review, Involve, Serve, Invest and Strengthen.

Or C.R.I.S.I.S. for short.

First, strong brands Clarify.

Any difficult situation is made worse when there is confusion or simply an absence of information. Either of these creates a vacuum where rumours can spread and fear or anger can set in. So leaders need to be all over the data and quickly establish both the facts and the organisation’s position. In the current crisis, our supermarkets deserve a special mention for defusing the initial panic and ensuring that the food supply chain worked as smoothly as possible. The Government’s own communications have arguably been less clear at times.

Second, organisations need to Review all their existing operations and activity.

Obviously, safety procedures and the like come first. But communications need to be checked too. Sometimes, long-planned campaigns no longer make sense – or might be incendiary. Nobody wants to end up like Spirit Airlines, whose automated email told America that there was “never a better time to fly”, days after the U.S. announced a ban on air travel. 

Third, successful companies Involve their people.

A 2015 report by Deloitte noted that most studies of crisis management focus on the ability of employees to help. In contrast, Deloitte’s research found that willingness to assist is a more important factor. In particular, front-line workers need to be listened to, reassured and rallied so that they are motivated to help the organisation recover. It might sound obvious, but brands like Wetherspoons, Topshop and Sports Direct have all been roundly criticised for their treatment of employees during lockdown. Why would workers there want to go the extra mile for their bosses?

Fourth, organisations need to ask themselves how they might Serve the greater good.

In the current crisis, we’ve seen many companies retool their factories to make hand sanitiser, masks and testing kits. We’ve also seen organisations relax payment schedules, bring down paywalls and waive fees, as a gesture of goodwill. But service can be as simple as keeping spirits up. 

For instance, we raised smiles by introducing a ridiculously long-spouted “social-distancing teapot” for Yorkshire Tea. Obviously, humour needs to be handled carefully in a crisis but, used in the right way, at the right time, it can be hugely appreciated. In fact, our research – conducted at the peak of the first lockdown, in April 2020 - showed that 90% of the UK’s population felt “keeping a sense of humour is important in times like these.”

Fifth, organisations should continue to Invest.

A Harvard Business Review study from 2010 found that fewer than 10% of companies typically emerge stronger, after a recession. These are the ones who cut non-essential costs but continue to invest in marketing support and innovation. 

Finally, organisations should aim to Strengthen themselves.

It’s always tempting to go “back to normal” after a sudden disruption. But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb declared in his 2012 best-seller Anti-fragile: things that gain from disorder, companies should not simply try to be “resilient”. Instead, they should aim to improve under pressure. This means locking in positive changes that have come about through disruption and accelerating improvements that have been thrown up in the chaos.

What you will hopefully notice about this model, is that it’s not driven by opportunistic exploitation. Instead, it’s centred around making the situation better for everyone – and improving yourself in the process. 

As such, it’s a rejection of a mantra that was often heard at the start of pandemic: Churchill’s (probably apocryphal) advice that “you should never let a crisis go to waste”. Of course, some companies will always profit from the human misery, tragedy and disruption of a crisis. But even leaving aside the moral arguments against this, we should be mindful that consumers will punish such gleeful attitudes over the long-term.

Put another way: if the last 12 months has taught us anything, it’s that Luck doesn’t look kindly on brands who chase ambulances – it favours those who purchase them, support them and kit them out.  

This article has been adapted from a new book by Andy Nairn. Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour is published by Harriman House and is available for pre-order.

This article is from the March 2021 issue of Marketing Society publication, Empower. The publication is for Society members only. Learn more.