The first time I talked about crisis management at a marketing conference, someone came up to me at the end and said it wasn’t what they were expecting.

When I smiled and raised an eyebrow, they said, “I thought you were going to talk about someone’s sign falling down, not someone dying.”

I work in the entertainment industry. We are in the fun business. Nobody wants the fun to be interrupted, or worst yet, to end. The fact is, whenever people gather, no matter if it is at a fun run, conference, sporting event, or music festival, anything from a minor problem, to a major crisis could arise. I work on projects that have varying levels of crisis preparedness. I also encounter many companies who have no plan at all.

I have had training for an active shooter scenario, bomb threat, and drone attacks. I have managed everything from a celebrity host refusing to perform his contractual duties, to extreme weather that collapsed a festival stage. I can now also say I have also been through the crisis of a global pandemic, and so can you. In fact, we are still going through it.

Every possible obstacle, no matter how minor, or severe, requires planning. I have sat in boardrooms with people who didn’t want to talk about the worst thing that could possibly go wrong, and I have also worked with teams that understood taking the necessary steps to resolving any scenario would result in less repercussions.

I recently participated in a “Coffee Chat” with Brad McCabe of Sponsor Circle and we shared some of our insights about Managing Sponsorship in a Crisis. It was a good opportunity to refresh and review my own crisis strategies. You can watch it HERE.

There are three important elements of crisis planning I feel need to be in place before any event, or gathering. 

  1. An emergency response plan
  2. Crisis clauses in legal contracts
  3. A crisis communications plan

In my experience, most events are required to have an emergency response plan to get municipal permits. Some events are transparent about their emergency plans, and others are not. You should feel comfortable asking about the plan. This can be done at the same time legal clauses, such as indemnification, and force majeure are discussed.

When I am managing an event, I review the emergency plan with my sponsors, and go over important protocols. Whenever possible, I test and practice emergency communication.

I have had to deliver emergency instructions at several events. Most of the time this has occurred when the event was already in progress. In 2020, many events were cancelled in advance, but not by the pandemic itself. It was an act of government. The contracts I oversee all contained a clause to deal with acts of government and many other crisis situations. I helped guide the properties and partners through the process. In some cases, we created addendums to bridge the agreements to 2021.

Most planning occurs long before any potential hazard, or actual crisis situation. The rest is about communication. It is important to have a strategic communications plan in place that outlines protocols for communicating to the public, spokesperson training, key messages, and deployment of all aspects of the plan.

In every situation, whether a sign has fallen down, or someone has died, the most important first steps are transparency, immediacy, and responsiveness. These steps often need to be repeated until there is understanding, resolution, or reparations. 

Despite the legal, or professional repercussions of a crisis, there is something equally important to remember. We are all human, and our business interactions are still with other people. We form relationships with our clients and partners. Something that is sometimes overlooked in a crisis situation is empathy. People want to be heard. They want to tell their story. They want validation.

Planning, legal, and processes are all important, but so is remembering the humanity.

As we navigate this current crisis, it is a good time to revisit our protocols and procedures. If you need help with crisis planning services, book a review.