What would you do if your organisation was involved in a crisis issue; a serious event for your business or products? How would you handle the people involved, the media and other scrutiny?


Melbourne crisis specialist, David Hawkins, managing director of Socom said too often, executives make decisions about what they think is the right thing to do, based on advice from lawyers. This is variously an attempt to keep the incident from attracting further public attention or keeping it out of the courts.

“If a crisis occurred, demonstrating genuine care and empathy and undertaking the appropriate communications, can determine if your response passes the social conscience test or not. And the consequences for your reputation,” David said.

David recommends senior executives frame their response by asking three questions:

  • What happened?
  • What are you doing about it (in terms of response, communications and rectification)?
  • Are you proud of how you responded?

“Another way of framing the response is this. If your family was impacted by the incident, how would you want the organisation to respond? Putting yourself in the shoes of the impacted people is a great reference check to see if you are doing the right thing. If you are, you should be proud of your response,” David said.

Sometimes, we need to be specific and focused regarding who are we caring for and the outcome we want to achieve. David gives the example of a child being injured during a ride at an amusement park in rural Australia. The ride caught fire and the child received serious burn injuries and was taken to the local hospital.

“As the owner of the amusement ride, what’s your priority now? Many people will say, go and talk to the family, show some understanding and support for them. But is that enough?”

David’s tip to help you get the answer right is to consider what you would do if your child was involved; what would the priority be then?

“You would want your child to have the best possible care.

“When an incident like this occurred, an organisation flew a burns specialist from Sydney to see the child – this is a demonstration of genuine care and empathy.

David said the organisation did this against the advice of the legal team. “The legal team said; ‘say nothing, do nothing’.

“Neither action avoids litigation but giving genuine care goes a long way to answering the question, “Are you proud of what you are doing?

“As the head of the organisation, you can face staff and other stakeholders knowing you did everything you could.

“This case never made it into the media, but if it had, doing the right thing is the first line of defence for every traditional and social media platform or channel.”

Your communications approach
Another key step is to communicate effectively to ensure that anyone else who may be impacted, has the correct information and is informed as quickly as possible to prevent further injury. Some organisations are reluctant to do this as it means they are making the issue public.

“If you do everything you can, you can lie straight in bed at night. And your clients, staff and other important stakeholders know you can be trusted to act on the good and the bad news.

What’s David’s advice for the communications team dealing with a crisis?

“Too often the communications team is brought in to try to resolve the situation without being given any substance. It’s like fighting a fire with an empty bucket.

“In this case, who decides what goes into the bucket is the executive and they make the decision about what the right thing is. In many cases, they see the communications team’s role as managing the online discussion and media inquiries, but they have a key role as the social conscience of the organisation and must be allowed to perform their role.

“This means saying ‘what we are doing is not enough’, if that’s the case. This can be quite confronting for junior communications people; challenging the CEO. But communications people want to be a trusted advisor, so it’s about making sure we provide an assessment of all options, detailing the possible good and the bad outcomes, for our executives to consider.

If your organisation were to be involved in a crisis, how prepared are you? How would you respond? Do you have frank and fearless advisors and communications support?

Get in touch with David or give us a call to discuss your needs.