Do you really have just 15 minutes to respond to a crisis?

You already know that when a crisis strikes you need to move fast and start communicating quickly.

But just how quick does that response need to be?

Well according to one chief executive who recently found his company in the news, the pressure of social media means you need to respond to a breaking incident within 15 minutes.

Peter Bellew made that comment after an incident where a Malaysia Airlines flight en route from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpa was forced to return to Tullamarine airport after a passenger claiming to have a bomb tried to enter the flight deck.

The airline made its first statement on the incident after just 14 minutes.

Here’s what Mr Bellew said about the incident:

“As soon as we got the call, we worked out the press statement, which included saying we were sorry. Fifteen minutes later the aircraft landed on the ground. At 14 minutes we had the first statement out.

“Then that got copied on social media everywhere and that dictated where the story went.”

He added: “I actually think you have less than 15 minutes now to say you’re sorry because people were live streaming on Facebook what was happening on the aircraft because the aircraft was below 4,000 feet.

“That’s the pressure you’re under now. It’s horrendous. The speed and the proliferation of the social media will overtake you so you have to take control of the story.”

Social media, for all its communication advantages, has clearly added complexity and additional pressure to crisis media management and has made it more important than ever to respond quickly.

Traditionally, in a crisis we would talk about the golden hour – the time following the start of the crisis during which the organisation affected could take action and protect its reputation, and its bottom line. And we have written before in this blog about how 24 hour news channels and social media have reduced that window.

But, while immediacy is crucial, is 15 minutes a realistic target? It certainly sounds daunting.

'Can you realistically respond to a crisis within 15 minutes?' via @mediafirstltd

Well, the key is good preparation.

On our crisis media management training courses we always stress the importance of organisations planning for a crisis.

And part of that planning process involves preparing a number of holding statements which can be used at the start of a crisis.

The important thing to remember is that when the worst happens, social media and journalists will not expect you to have all the information at your fingertips, so these statements do not need to go into any great detail.

But they will expect you to show you are aware of the incident, acknowledge that something has gone wrong and show that you are trying to resolve the situation.

A good holding statement will allow you to do this while buying you a little time to get a better understanding of exactly what has happened before you issue something more detailed.

Responding quickly will also enable your organisation to position itself as a trusted source of information and help control the narrative, rather than letting rumours and inaccurate information set the agenda.

'Responding quickly during a crisis will help an organisation be seen as a trusted source of info' via @mediafirstltd

The 15 minute timetable is also a lot more realistic if you are monitoring social media channels effectively. Your customers will start tweeting and posting information about a crisis as soon as it happens. This means your social media manager is likely to be the first person in your organisation to be aware of the crisis.

A key point here is that the escalation process is well rehearsed and tested. Comms, media, social media and executive teams should all consider having an emergency telephone that is only used to alert internal teams of a crisis.

'An organisation's crisis escalation process should be well rehearsed and tested' via @mediafirstltd

It is also crucial that organisations practice and test their crisis plans with realistic scenarios. The more they practice, the more likely they are to be able to respond quickly and communicate within 15 minutes when the real thing happens.



Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led crisis communication and media training courses.


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