Why I Love a Good Crisis
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Why I Love a Good Crisis

The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. But in retrospect, that silence beat the hell out of what came next. The chief executive – whose staff had signed off at every stage of the project – was now aggressively backing away from the research we had just presented and reversing themselves on essentially everything.

It may seem unlikely, but crisis moments like these have been among the most valuable in my professional career. Beyond a character-building exercise, these unexpected moments force reflection and strengthen our ability to anticipate. And being able to anticipate is the key to success for our work – and the work of our clients.

To take advantage of a crisis, I always begin with a hard look at how it developed, as soon after the fact as possible, and take at a minimum the following actions:

  • Cue the mental replay…to be clear, I’m not advocating for any sort of Black Mirror-style level of effort on the replay. However, take the time to play back the scenario and work to identify not just what went sidewise, but why.
  • Talk with the witnesses…at a minimum, anyone in the room at the time should have a seat at the table to debrief. Taking a moment to acknowledge that there was indeed a crisis is important. We’re human. With feelings. And sometimes this stuff is ROUGH. Allowing time to debrief and then figuring out the “why” of what happened is always time well spent.
  • Make a judgment and move on…while differences of opinion are a good thing, it’s important to collectively agree on the one or more lessons learned from the experience and keep them to use as tools.
  • Remember the moment…while dwelling is no good, keeping the memory with you is important in order to be able to anticipate and mitigate against when a similar circumstance pops up on another project.
  • The power of the hard look…I’d be a total hypocrite if I didn’t take this type of hard look. We ask our clients seeking to rebrand or reposition themselves to take a hard look at their organization – the good and the bad – and be willing to change what’s not working. To do so means an honest assessment of external perceptions as well as owning up to the strengths and challenges of internal structures and communications channels.

Branding is unique because it requires putting everything on the table and potentially exposing areas of weakness. We ask questions designed to get at the fundamental nature of the organization itself – which frequently uncovers disagreements, power struggles and mistakes. A good branding process will ferret out the dysfunction in any organization. This process ultimately serves to make the brand clear not only to external audiences, but to the staff who make up the organization – making them stronger as a result.

And as their agency party, they’re inviting us in. To all of it.

My colleagues and I never lose sight of the fact that inviting us in takes a lot of trust. Trust that we will be honest with them. Trust that we will be honest with – and about – ourselves in order to make sure we’re bringing our best to the table every day.

In the immediate aftermath of our client reversal, my colleagues and I learned that the findings in the research were perceived as an indictment of their leadership, so it hit really, REALLY close to home. In retrospect, I learned two clear lessons: 1) Respect the personal and emotional reactions from your client when it comes to brand development. In this case, it’s not just business. It is personal. And 2) Push hard to have the chief executive more involved along the way, making sure that leader is on board with the truth about their organization and involved in processing it BEFORE it becomes a conversation with a wider group.

We also know that learning how to expect the unexpected is part of the gig. And I love it. I know that more such crises are coming – and the team at GMMB will be equipped to handle it.

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