DEVENEY Crisis Blog - May 2021

Mitigation vs. Crisis Management vs. Reputation Management

In the world of business, your brand is constantly at risk. Everything from diabolical computer hackers and human errors to natural disasters, pandemics, and acts of war threaten the viability and continuity of your operation.

Do you know what to do?

First, you should understand what a crisis is, and what it is not. Someone complaining online about the service they received at your business is uncomfortable, perhaps maddening or embarrassing, but is it a crisis?

Yes! And no.

It may be just one mention, but how you address it could turn that statement into either a firestorm or a learning opportunity. The choice is yours.

The same goes for how you manage your technology, where your business stands on social justice issues, employment issues, and how you operate on a daily basis. Even the most prepared organization can have a data breach or lawsuit that puts it in the crosshairs of media and public controversy.

Mitigation vs. Crisis Management vs. Reputation Management.

At first glance, you may think these words nearly synonymous. Similar yes, but when you are facing a crisis within your organization the difference is substantial, and you will see that often one can lead to the others—or if managed properly leave your business stronger and neutralize future threats.

Let’s work through an example, utilizing the pandemic as it is fresh on everyone’s mind. You have a long-time employee who refuses to wear a mask while at work (not for any type of physical reason, just does not want to wear one). There is a clear employee policy indicating that all team and customers must follow the state/local-mandated mask ordinance. You have reminded this employee of the policy multiple times and have seen no change in behavior. After a recent discussion about the mask policy, the employee makes derogatory, threatening posts online about you and the organization. The employee recruits and encourages other team members to refuse masks as well, and contacts local media about what they consider to be an overly restrictive policy. A story ran in the local news about the internal strife. Customers start asking if the interior is safe, sales begin to decline, employees are confused, social media posts are running wild, and there is a general lack of morale at your organization. How do you handle this situation?

First, we suggest working with your Human Resources and legal teams before making any decisions, and this is just a fictional example that could happen. Mitigation for this scenario would mean making decisions and policies and taking actions that reduce the damage or likelihood of a negative event at your organization. Mitigation is about doing today everything that you might need to protect your business in the future from a variety of threats.

After discussion with HR/legal, you may opt to fire or discipline the employee for violating company policy(ies). You could decide to relax the mask policy (providing it does not violate city or state requirements) or issue a public statement supporting your mask policy.

In terms of mitigation, how prepared would you be for this? Would your social media policies do what you would want them to do? Your dress policy? Behavior and performance standards? Your media policy?

The crisis management component begins when a triggering event occurs, often when the public is aware of the situation. This situation is a crisis impacting your employees, customers, and brand. No matter what the legal/HR solution is for the scenario in question, you have a crisis to handle both internally and externally. Crisis management is about shortening the life cycle of the crisis. It must manage both the immediate and the long-term implication of the situation.

Since this issue involved social and traditional media, you will want to address it likewise. Use your owned (website) and social media channels to clearly state your position on the issue, why it is important, and what it means for your customers and employees. Then respond to earned media (news outlets) with language and statements consistent with what is on your web and social. While reaching the media is important, it is secondary to your most important audience: your employees. (And media will frequently reach out to your employees, so you want them to prepare with accurate information. Any inconsistency attracts greater scrutiny and suspicion about your organization.)

The team members who carry your brand every day need to be informed of what is happening and how it impacts them. Now is the time to listen to your team, let them ask their questions, and share with them what steps are being made to solve the crisis. An engaged and supported team can do more to help recover from a crisis than any amount of advertising or media placement.

Reputation management begins as soon as the initial crisis is solved (decision made, employees notified), but the planning for it should happen during crisis management. Assess the damage and look to the future. This work is about repairing the damage done by this crisis and to recover what was lost because of the crisis. This phase will involve knowing where you stood in terms of brand awareness and sentiment, and how that has changed.

Your reputation is not built upon just one thing, and a crisis in any one area of your operation should never define your brand. Once the crisis-inducing situation is mitigated, the focus should shift to what your organization is doing right, right down to the most basic operations that directly impact the lives of your employees, customers, and your community. Sharing those positives will help blunt the sting of the crisis and serve as building blocks for rebuilding your reputation.

Want to learn more about how to handle a crisis?

As one of the nation’s top crisis management firms, we have a proven record of taking on crises of all sizes. We work in tandem with legal teams to determine the very best approach for the desired outcome. If you’d like more information about how a marketing agency could make your business more successful, contact us at