Remember the good old days when a crisis was a crisis? You know … fire, explosion, maybe a key executive gone bad or a product that didn’t work the way it was supposed to work? But the evolution of the definition of “crisis” for companies today has been swift and permanent.

Yes, blame the Internet, but more importantly the audience’s habits are the chief driver behind the new age of crisis. Today, the world works at lightning speed with a greater pool of risk: social media rants, unwanted video captured by a cellphone user, inadvertent product placement or a well-meaning customer who publicly (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, etc.) crosses a trademark line.

Audiences demand the latest and newest information, and the pool of potential communication outlets continues to grow. B2B companies are seeing this as more and more trade publications publish negative company news (and other events) online.

As practitioners we must recognize the areas of vulnerability and possible crisis in the world of B2B marketing and public relations. To name just a few:

1. Plant/facility explosions/fires
2. Manufacturing disruptions
3. Rogue employees’ sabotage of products
4. Workplace violence
5. Strikes/layoffs
6. Accidents with company products in the field
7. Intentional inappropriate use of equipment
8. Product boycotts
9. Hackers obtaining company/customer information
10. Social media attacks on the company (irate customer/competitor)
11. Executive misconduct

The list goes on. So bury your head and don’t go outside? No. Communication today is more important than ever before. The risks of talking, in most cases, far outweigh the risks of staying silent. There are simply too many alternative voices and too many opportunities for others to do the talking for you.

In most cases the answer is neither to bury your head nor to immediately run to the cameras or hastily post to company social media sites. Instead, it’s vital for a company to open up its crisis plan (YES! You need one.) and follow this check list:

1. Is this a crisis? (based on the definition in your company’s crisis plan)
2. Does it require an immediate response with care and concern?

a. If yes, respond.
b. If no, begin monitoring local/national media.

i. Proactive communication necessary?
ii.Reactive communication necessary?

3. Has the internal crisis team been notified?
4. Monitor social media and proactively prepare responses.
5. Identify key audiences.
6. Response level high/low?
a. Statement on request
b. Press release only
c. PR release and interviews
d. Press conference
7. Prepare communications for:

a. Media outlets — press release
b. Social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
c. Key stakeholders (owners/shareholders/key business contacts)
d. Trade publications
e. Internal audiences
f. Dealer audiences
g. Supplier audiences

Far more than just a checklist, the crisis plan in today’s world is driven by the potential communication venues, the audiences and the levels of response based on event input. The evolution of crisis dictates a strong unified foundation from which a company speaks. Anything short of that is a crisis of its own waiting to happen.

“The evolution of crisis” is the first installment of a four-part series on crisis communications. Stay tuned for the second installment, which will help you identify your company’s vulnerabilities and how they affect your crisis plan.

About Two Rivers Marketing

Two Rivers Marketing is a full-service business-to-business (B2B) marketing communications agency. Email us with your thoughts or questions at