Look a crisis in the eye

A plea for prevention in political and crisis management

From corruption to cutting jobs, companies find themselves making headline news again and again, casting a negative image in the media. Major crises show how products and corporations are caught in journalists’ crosshairs every day. And these instances also demonstrate how poor crisis management quickly allows a problem to escalate to catastrophe – significantly impacting a company’s image and brand. Dismissing the manager supposedly responsible may effect short-term change, but a company’s reputation will most certainly suffer long-term.

Every crisis is different. Each one is an intersection of ecological, economic and political interests which may or may lie outside the moral code. At the same time, today’s consumers are more critical, more sensitive and more ready for conflict. If crisis management is insufficient, if inconsequential promises are made, if communications are steered to a disastrous conclusion – top managers are held personally responsible for the fallout. As a result, crises place an extreme burden on the psychology of those ensnared in them. Stressed and pressured by exceptional circumstances, people react spontaneously and impulsively when they can’t tap into solid preventative measures. The question is, now what’s to be done?

The growing number of crises in recent years and the prognosis that the trend will continue make it impossible for companies to ignore at least a cursory examination of the science of crises. Crisis management and crisis communications have evolved into one of senior management’s central tasks. They must identify and anticipate potential crises, create infrastructures, rehearse courses of action and train employees. It’s the only way companies can react to predicaments with grace under fire – instead of a full-blown panic attack. What’s more, clearly designated responsibility plus a management model which perfectly balances improvisation and organization is a company’s sole method of going on the offensive during a crisis and preventing it from reaching the next level – a catastrophe.

Crises have a way of creeping up. Issues deemed harmless yesterday evolve into today’s flashpoints. So establishing an early warning system to spot and monitor possible risk-laden subjects are essential to managing crises successfully. This entails professional “issues management” by using media reports, relevant discussions, new directions in the company or government policy as well as legal battles, regular and focused monitoring of various platforms can be leveraged early to lessen the damage. And due to crises’ growing significance as well as expanding mass media, the growing significance of professional crisis PR will also keep pace. Mass media, too, is subject to more intense competition, so it will invariably find itself embroiled in explosive subjects. To steer clear of them, organizations must address how the company sees itself by engaging with more discerning and demanding stakeholders and at least recognize their wishes and expectations. In the future, forceful and persuasive crisis PR will be what tips the scales. Communication which genuinely explains something helps align a company’s selfimage with how outsiders see it. The outcome: the foundation for a relationship in greater balance.

Another important component in sidestepping minefields is analyzing political and social activities which are germane to the company. Evaluating the interests of others as well as analyzing possible courses of action are essential in being able to respond as an early warning system in grave circumstances.

Political advisory services to help companies see that their interests prevail in politics have taken off in Germany. Lobbying behind closed doors – often met with criticism – has evolved into a professional, strategic tool to represent interests. Now, “how you do it” trumps “who you know”. Laws pertaining to companies are harder and harder to keep track of, and the economic consequences of political decisions are, at best, difficult to gauge. Companies will need to act more quickly in the public eye to keep unwanted reactions at bay. Also key: watching relevant political developments and making positions heard.

Business managers at the Steinbeis Institute Political & Crisis Management at the School of Governance, Risk & Compliance at Steinbeis University Berlin receive thorough schooling in political communication and professional crisis management. Experts in science, academia, business and politics shed light on the entrepreneurial, legal and political side of “the weaponry” in political and crisis management. This imparts necessary, interdisciplinary expertise with twofold benefits. Managers are trained to react capably to both the media and in a political setting and can pinpoint possible political stakeholders as well as imbroglios.


Dr. Thorsten Hofmann
Steinbeis Transfer Institute Political & Crisis Management (Berlin)

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