“Crisis Ready” by Melissa Agnes is a truth bomb. Go read it.

Why do companies behave so stupidly in a crisis? Now that I’ve read Melissa Agnes’ new book Crisis ReadyI understand. It’s because they didn’t have a proper crisis program in place.

Crisis Ready is a terrific combination: accessible and entertaining, but full of practical advice. I found myself highlighting passages on ever page. Here are a few tidbits with my commentary:

There is no such thing as a “social media crisis.” You can’t outrun the Internet. You have to outsmart it.

Social media blows up when you make a mistake, have an issue, or suffer a problem. Social media is now an inherent part of any crisis. If a video is spreading, the problem isn’t the video. It’s whatever you did that got caught on video. Any crisis management must include social media, but social media is just one dimension of the problem — or the solution. “Outsmarting” the Internet means getting your authentic, and if necessary apologetic, idea of the truth out there quickly.

Greater trust instilled with stakeholders gives you the merited benefit of the doubt at the onset of a crisis.

Agnes doesn’t just toss around “stakeholders” as a piece of jargon. She defines it; it includes not just customers, but employees, investors, business partners, suppliers, regulators, press, and anyone else you do business with. And as she points out in an example from the Mountain View Police Department, if your company works in a trustworthy way with them on a day-to-day basis, you get more slack when something goes wrong.

Today’s stakeholders expect more of your organization in a crisis . . . In fact, while we used to be able to refer to these expectations as “expectations,” . . . they have evolved into demands. Demands that, when unmet, can result in an irreparable loss of brand equity, trust, and reputation.

Yup. The public demands an answer. You’d better be able to deliver it.

Always assume there’s video.

A good principle.

There are the three components that are consistently found in each piece of viral content. . . . 1. An emotionally compelling story. 2. Relatability. And 3. Sharable format.

A clear explanation of what spreads, including an analysis of why a Boko Haram slaughter didn’t spread nearly as widely as #JeSuisCharlie.

Emotion always overpowers reason.

When you make your rational crisis management program, this is hard to comprehend, but unquestionably and powerfully true.

[Managers fail to plan properly because] Management wrongfullly believes the old ways of managing crises still apply and will continue to work for the organization; the organization feels immune to crises; certain departments (e.g.: legal) or executives have a hard time releasing the reins and being open to the need to be proactive and communicate in a timely fashion in times of crisis; the organization lacks the resources to dedicate to this type of initiative.

I see the telltale signs of these failures in every crisis statement I analyze.

A mistake can be forgiven. The appearance of a cover-up will not be.

Are you listening, politicians?

The more you demonstrate your commitment to transparency, the more you will position your organization as the credible source of information throughout the crisis, and the less stakeholder trust you will lose.

I really wish people understood this. Silence and withholding information always leaves you worse off in the end.

[A]n apology is not an admittance of guilt, and it is an expectation that needs to be met.

All PR people (and their lawyers) need to have this tattooed on their bodies.

There is more than truth here. There is practical advice.

Crisis Ready is built around five steps for building a crisis program:

  • Audit Mindset and Culture
  • Understand Variables and Impact
  • Identify Scenarios and Stakeholders
  • Design Action Plans and Communications Strategy
  • Implement Skillset and Program

Each of these is clearly laid out, described, and justified. There is a lot of work to do here, but with this blueprint, you can get ready to do it.


Graphic: Melissa Agnes

The other key concept I took away was that crisis management plans are not very useful. If you create a 150-page binder on what to do in a crisis, will people really be able to follow everything in “the book” in time to make a difference? And will the crisis that you imagine match up perfectly to the crisis that actually happens?

Instead, Agnes recommend creating a crisis management program. Unlike a plan, a program explains more about who is responsible for what (for example, press inquiries, a special Web site, social media, making key decisions) and how they will communicate. There is a focus on key stakeholders, like major investors and managers, who may need to get information in a more personal way, before everyone else.

The whole book is full of great examples like United Airlines dragging David Dao off the plane, Uber’s continued problems with Travis Kalanick, United Airlines when the CEO had a heart attack, Emory University during the Ebola Crisis, the Oscars when they announced the wrong winner for Best Picture, and United Airlines breaking Dave Carroll’s guitar. (Why is it always United Airlines?) This book is worth it, just for the schadenfreude. But it ought to be a wake-up call, and Agnes sprinkles in plenty of real-world examples from her own practice with companies.

I only have one minor quibble with this book, and it’s stylistic. There are a few too many exclamation points. It’s a little too friendly in places. It could also do with a subtitle. I wish I could have been Agnes’ editor on this book and fixed these little flaws, because the content is solid and useful and highly readable.

If you don’t want a crisis to consume your company and damage your brand, you really ought to follow the instructions in this book. It’s well worth your time.

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  1. Josh, thank you so much for this honest and generous review. It means the world to me that you took from the book what I intended. It means I hit my mark – and the fact that I know just how “without bullshit” you are, speaks wonders and adds to the credibility behind your review. Thank you!

    The book’s subtitle is actually “Building an Invincible Brand in This Uncertain World”…. which you have brought to my attention that it is not currently on the book’s Amazon page – I will fix this, so thank you for that!

      1. Hi Philip,

        I was looking to achieve something unique, strong, bold, and elegant with the cover. The fact that it confused you says it captured your attention, which was also part of the mission. I wanted it to stand out next to its cousin books, as it is very different from other books on the subject.

        Thanks for letting me know your thoughts!