The Final Four: Crisis Management Lessons Learned from March Madness
By Jeff Wilson, APR (@wilson0507)
Of all the sporting events I watch, March Madness has got to be my favorite. I love that every school in the tournament – big and small – has a shot at greatness, at least for “one shining moment.”
I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella story. And I almost always root for the underdog.
As I prepare to watch Kentucky take on Louisville, and Kansas take on Ohio State tomorrow, it reminds me just how much teams have to endure – in such a short period of time – to make it to the Final Four and ultimately to win a national championship. It’s like being in crisis mode.
Which got me thinking, are there crisis management lessons to be learned from March Madness?
I submit to you, my Final Four of crisis management.
- Prepare for the Opposition. All great coaches know that in order to beat your opponent, you must prepare for your opponent. The same holds true in crisis management. Organizations must identify all the crises they could face and prepare for them accordingly. Unfortunately, far too many organizations neglect their crisis planning in favor of other things. While it can take years to build a reputation, it only takes a few minutes to destroy one. You should never be caught unprepared during a crisis.
- Quickness Counts. In basketball, quickness counts. It also counts in crisis management. The first 48 hours of any crisis are the most important. The reason many companies fail to manage a crisis properly is because they don’t react quickly, especially with communications. If you don’t communicate quickly during a crisis, a communications void will be created. If you don’t fill it, someone else will. But the information they share may be inaccurate or incomplete. It’s better to say something quickly during a crisis than to say nothing at all. It may be tempting to delay communicating during a crisis by saying “no comment” or just staying silent. All that does is make it easier for the media and the public to assume the worst.
- Shoot From the Outside. It goes without saying that the three-point shot has revolutionized college basketball. Former Tulane coach Perry Clarks said that the three-point shot has allowed the mid-majors to better compete with the big guys in college basketball, because players who shoot from the outside can often offset the size and athleticism of their bigger opponents. In crisis communications, shooting from the outside means seeking an outsider’s perspective. Internal politics tend to take over during a crisis. Good leaders anticipate internal politics and counter that by bringing in someone from the outside who can look at the issues without bias. The outsider’s role is not to call the shots but to provide counsel and give an organization a perspective that few company insiders can offer.
- Prepare for the Comeback. A basketball team may be down at the half, and things may look bleak. But there’s always a second half … and an opportunity for the comeback. In business, smart leaders understand that in the midst of crisis, there are always opportunities. Don’t be afraid to seize the moment. Yes, there are risks involved. But the greater the risks, the greater the rewards.
For the record, I’m predicting Louisville to upset Kentucky on Saturday to face Kansas in the Finals. I told you I root for the underdog.
Note: Special thanks to Brian Ellis, CRT/tanaka executive vice president and leader of our crisis consultancy, for helping with this blog post. Read more crisis tips from Brian on the CRT/tanaka website.
About Jeff Wilson:
Jeff Wilson, APR is associate vice president and director of business development for PadillaCRT. He develops and guides the implementation of the agency’s strategic communications plan, which includes media relations, social media, sponsorship, website copywriting, advertising and collateral material development. He also provides day-to-day management of the agency’s new business response functions. Jeff has earned some of the PR industry’s most prestigious awards, including PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils, a PRSA Health Academy Innovation Award and an IABC Gold Quill. He was named one of PRWeek’s “2008 Top 40 Under 40” as well as one of Richmond’s “2007 Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly. He also is immediate past president of PRSA Richmond.