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Keep This Handy: The 10 New Rules of Crisis Communication

Our agency is located in Indiana and when the powers-that-be in the state passed their version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a crisis ensued. It wasn’t simply a government crisis. Since it impacted the business sector, it became a crisis for all of us doing business within the state. Especially when some some business leaders outside the state began to speak out and threaten to boycott the state (fascinating given that they’ve never made that threat to the countries they sell in that have legalized discrimination and lack of freedom).

My contacts in the state tell me that the powers-that-be were absolutely warned that they were heading into a storm and it was totally unnecessary. Whether you’re for or against the legislation doesn’t matter. The crisis ensued – and every business scrambled to try to get on top of the situation. It was (and continues to be), quite the nightmare.

  • The RFRA was a unilateral move by a majority so it lacked any research into the audience, nor did it communicate with the businesses nor consumers effected.
  • The subsequent rebellion of businesses was loud but did not accurately communicate that it was a majority of Hoosier businesses, not just the minorities impacted, that rejected the legislation.

The result is that both the responsible party and the opposition both had a crisis on their hand. The responsible party had to immediately backtrack without any options nor choice. The opposition had to organize and try to build a single voice that communicated their rejection of the legislation to corporations outside the state.

The media jumped on the opportunity to throw wood on the fire and really get the blaze going. Businesses like ours were forced to release our own statements. (We did not ask for, nor support, the legislation despite my religion). It was a perfect storm.

Perhaps the best response came from the Indianapolis Office of the Mayor, who – while conservative – effectively communicated the voice of businesses in the region and put himself effectively in a leadership position above that of the governor. It was a good move and seemed to subdue some of the crisis.

The irony of this entire crisis, in my opinion, was that it was truly Hoosiers that voiced their opposition the loudest… and then businesses outside the area began talk of boycotting Indiana… and the very Hoosiers that voiced their opposition. I’m disappointed in the businesses outside Indiana that sought to hurt those of us who took action and pressured our regional leaders to make immediate changes.

I was interviewed by Ray Steele about the situation on WIBC:

An unfortunate crisis indeed. My hope is that it’s a lesson of hubris learned by the Governor. It’s doubtful he’ll ever recover, and for good reason.

The Agnes + Day crisis intelligence team has designed an infographic that showcases the very important 10 new rules of crisis communications. Please feel free to print it for your team and share it with your network.

Reading each of the rules below, you can absolutely see where things went wrong in Indiana.

10 New Rules of Crisis Communication

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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