Crisis Management Best Practices

Episode 990: Crisis Management Best Practices, with Bill Coletti

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Crisis management best practices—Discover essential strategies for navigating crises effectively in our guide to crisis management best practices.

What are some basic crisis management best practices? Well, our expert, Bill Coletti, will give us some insights on this topic for this podcast episode. 

Bill Coletti is a reputation management, crisis communications, and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.

Bill previously co-led the Global Risk Management and Crisis Communications Practice for Hill+Knowlton Strategies. He held senior leadership positions in the firm’s Austin, Texas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida offices, as a member of the senior management team.

He provided senior counsel in crisis management, corporate communications, and reputation defense to numerous clients, such as AT&T, Target Corporation, American Airlines, The Home Depot, Xerox, Nuclear Energy Institute, and Cargill, as well major universities and global NGOs. Previously, Bill served in the Republic of Bulgaria as a senior advisor to the prime minister, Council of Ministers, and the labor minister. He was the first executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria.


What you’ll learn in this episode is about crisis management best practices

  • How Bill started his career running political campaigns and then pivoted into helping companies develop crisis management best practices
  • How Bill defines a crisis differently from a “day-to-day business challenge”, and how “critical moments” are reputation-impacting issues that companies often struggle with
  • How an organization’s reputation is found at the overlap of the public perception of the company and what they expect the company to do next
  • How the classic four P’s of marketing (price, product, place and promotion) served as a model for Bill’s four A’s of reputation management
  • How Bill’s four A’s process (awareness, assessment, authority and action) can help you navigate the complex challenges of reputation management
  • Why and how Bill wrote his book “Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management”, and what benefits his company has received from the book’s release
  • Bill explains why each of the four A’s is an important step in managing the long-term reputation of your business
  • Why it is important to express consistency and authenticity in how your company lives its values, and what lessons can be drawn from the many crises of 2020
  • How your reputation is built up over a long, slow period and is rooted in your mission and values, and why there’s no “quick” way to manage your reputation
  • Why creating a “reservoir of goodwill” can help you manage crisis situations and the public’s expectations and beliefs about your company


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Crisis Management Best Practices: Full Episode Transcript


Get ready to find your recipe for success from America’s top business owners here at Onward Nation with your host. Stephen Woessner.


Good morning. I’m Stephen Woessner, CEO of Predictive ROI and your host for Onward Nation, where I interviewed today’s top business owners so we can learn their recipe for success, how they built, and how they scale their business. And it is wonderful to have you here for this episode. Believe it or not, for the first time in almost a thousand episodes of Onward Nation, we’re going to take a deep dive into the best practices of managing a crisis in all of the communication that goes along with it. 


Our guest today is Bill Coletti. The CEO of Kith, which is spelled K-I-T-H. And you can find them at Bill is also the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book entitled Critical Moments The New Mindset of Reputation Management Onward Nation. Bill has planted his flag have authority over the last nearly three decades in being a highly sought-after leader in the crisis communications space. So I asked Bill to share his insights with you around what he calls the four A’s of reputation management because if we can master the four A’s and as we think through and build a plan for the next crisis, if 2020 taught us anything, they taught us a very important lesson about needing to be ready. 


So, the framework in the insights Bill shares with us today is going to be super helpful. In fact, all of this can be summed up, in my opinion, by one of his reviewers, a reviewer on Amazon. I wanna read this to you because I think it’s so insightful. This is one of the reviews of Bill’s book. And so this is a quote: there are only two types of businesses: those that are experiencing a crisis. And then those that will experience a crisis in the near future. The quote goes on to say whether you are currently managing a challenging situation or planning ahead for the inevitable, Bill has written the perfect playbook for you. 


It is a must-read for the stakeholders of any business. So, without further ado, welcome to Onward Nation, Bill. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Bill’s Introduction


Stephen, it’s great to be here. I’m so glad that in my father’s quote you captured that one out of all of the things that we’re in, don’t see that kind of stuff. That’s a good one. It is a great quote and really embodies the importance of being ready and actually having the strategy in place because 2020 taught us that lesson in spades. Before we dive into that, though, I know we’re going to have a great conversation. 


You take us behind the curtain, though, because I mentioned the nearly three decades of experience. I mean, you have been doing this at depth for a really long time for a Wii, a wide variety of really successful companies, large companies, small companies, and so forth. So, take us behind the curtain. Tell us more about you and your past and your journey, and then we’ll dive in. 


Crisis management best practices? Awesome. I love talking about that stuff. So, I started my career right out of high school and then started doing it in college. I ran political campaigns. So, I ran campaigns. My first campaign was the latter half of my senior year of high school, and then, at the end of that first year of college, I was involved in politics. My first job straight out of school was running campaigns in Florida, where I grew up. And so it did that for about 15 years, with different campaigns, both regionally in the U.S. and in Florida, and then I had an opportunity to run a statewide campaign in Florida. And as for anybody that’s listening and the Onward Nation knows that you finish a campaign and you say, well, I’m never going to do that again. 


That was not going to win, lose, or draw. You never say you are never going to do that again. And so I took five years, then moved to Bulgaria and moved to Eastern Europe. So I worked for the prime minister of Bulgaria in the ministry of labor or the ministry of justice, and some other folks over there in, in Bulgaria for five years in 1995, then came home, did more politics in 2000 in Florida, which was a pretty consequential year, a in Florida politics in 2000, and then started doing this. And the concept is that crisis communications in politics is that you are always defending against different crises. And you’re trying to create them for your opponent because the one with the typical in campaigns, the candidate with one less Crisis than the other guy typically wins. 


And so then, for the past six years, that was where the big global public relations firm. I did that. And in 2001, that was done for a dozen years or so. And then, about six years ago, I started my own firm I’m on an entrepreneurial journey, thinking there was a better, more focused way to do it. And all we do now is crisis communications and reputation management. So it was that big, big global PR firm, but now, taking that very hyper-focused approach and serving people a couple of different ways, it’s exclusively around crisis communications and reputation management. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: A Journey of Catharsis, Credentialization, and Claiming Intellectual Property


Okay. So then, and I should know this because I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t because I looked at your book and saw the claim for it. Honestly, I mentioned it in the introduction, but the date of when you published it, or when it was published—excuse me, I don’t remember. So, when did you write that? 


2017-2018. It came out in Q4 of 17, but we really started talking about it, the publisher on the, in the first of 18. 


So you were running to the — you were already running Kith when you wrote it. 


Absolutely. Right. And it would have been difficult honestly to ride it from the vantage point of a big firm. And so I needed, I needed that sort of in your entrepreneur entrepreneurial Liberty, your entrepreneurial courage, ah, to be able to do, to create a critical Moments, but it was born out, have a conversation with the client is where the that was sort of the birth. The original idea of the book came out of a conversation with a client. 


So I know that we weren’t necessarily; this just kind of came to mind as we were talking about the book. You’re mentioning your path, that journey. So this will be a little bit of a curve ball, but writing a book is hard, and it takes a lot of effort in research and writing and all of that. So why did you decide to write your book? Yeah, great question. I needed it. 


What are the crisis management best practices? I felt as though I needed to do something to credential myself because I had always had a really strong reputation with the folks that I had directly worked with. Didn’t particularly have a strong personal brand, but it was under the wings, had a big global public relations firm, and had a big, fancy title at the old firm. And so doors opened because of the firm, not because of me. My network was obviously smaller than the firm’s network. Okay. So I was looking for something as a credentializer. As I got on the journey, it became very cathartic, and I got some help. I got some help with outlining, taking my random thoughts, and crystallizing them into the framework that the book is now. 


How did the crisis management best practices take place? And so the thought that it was really important. And so, it served a second, the second fold process for a second and third objective has really been cathartic and really sort of organizing and forcing me to galvanize and get down on paper, stake my claim in some IP, and state my position on where I stand. You know, one of the things you that I did early in my career, and one of the things I’d always done as a crisis communicator, has really thrived on flexibility and being adaptive, which are great character traits, but sometimes in business, staking, a claim and standing by in a piece of IP are an idea or a thought or whatever a manifesto is really critical. And so that cathartic process won it in writing a book was really, really helpful. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: The Power and Process of Writing a Book


The direct answer to your question is the credentialization that comes from offering a book. Hmm. In retrospect, it became very, very good for us to just galvanize IP, to galvanize kind of the things that we stand for. Then we believe in it, and we always try to point back to some elements of the book. We’ve moved on with some of our thinking, but some of the durable concepts are still pretty good. 


Yeah. I’m sure. I’m sure there are that. I love the fact that I took it as a visual metaphor. Like when you said staking, your claim is sticking a claim like, Oh, that’s, that’s pretty cool. Cause you, because you are with it, when you create something like that, Onward, Nation like a book or whatever type of cornerstone content a is, is we kind of put it in that bucket. That is what you’re doing; you’re pounding a stake in the dirt and saying, I own this spot. And so that was awesome. Love how you said to credential yourself and the cathartic peace. I mean, if it does force you to bring all of that together in a very disciplined way. I mean, the best books in years as a Wall Street Journal bestseller, that doesn’t happen by accident. 


You’re not aimlessly wandering through the wilderness; your book is organized, and you have to put it all together. Congratulations on writing a great book. 


Yeah. Well, thank you very much. It was a good process. I’ve got a second one. I think we’ll see how that one sort of develops, and if you were, there was a curiosity. I’m happy to talk about it, and maybe that will prompt me to go get it moving. But it is a book, or how hard they can easily become a collective and have blog posts. In fact, if that was an idea someone gave me, they asked me why I just took a 175 50 and had my best two to 3000-word blog posts and just stitched them together. And I mean, that just seems like a dog’s breakfast. It seems all over the place, and no, through line other than the three lines. 


We fortunately abandoned that bad idea, which is not. I know a couple of people who have written books. That way, they don’t strike me as there are others. They resemble books and are bound. That’s how they resemble a book, but I don’t think they truly are. They should have a beginning, middle, and end, as all good literature should have. 


Yeah. You know, and unless you’re somebody like Seth Godin, who intended that his next 99 blogs were going to create a book. And so, to your point, they had a through line. Yep. They were written with that intent. He was very strategic about, 


No, I never did. I didn’t mind. I now think about that a little bit more now, but at the outset, and that was just an idea. We have abandoned that, but I guess it’s a legit approach if you’ve got it this year. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Understanding Foundation and Strategy


The best way to apply crisis management best practices? And if you have the right strategy. Right, exactly. And that’s what it comes down to. Okay. So let’s, shift gears here because when this episode airs, so Onward, they should just, in full transparency, we’re recording this on December 8th of 2020. I’m not going to ask Bill to forecast the future or anything like that. That’s not the point, but we’ve just learned a lot through 2020, Bill, about what it means to actually navigate your business through a crisis. I know there are many different forms of crisis, so let’s start with a foundation first. When you think crisis and then reputation, management lays some foundation for us before we get into the four H is lay some foundation for us. So, the Onward Nation of business owners and I are in the same canoe as you. 


So basically, three constructs, the way that you think about it, are day-in and day-out challenging business problems. And there are some people who call; those are the crises, right? And they’re not particularly at Crisis, all right. So I’m happy to be walked into my grocery store or just as it turned out last night and the cash register system failed, and they couldn’t check us out, and you can only accept cash in one case on one machine and So big grocery store. So, that’s not a crisis; it’s a business problem that needed to be solved at that moment. Some people conflate it as a crisis. And my wife and someone else are at the store with him. We said, Oh, this was perfect for you. And I was like, no, not really. This is just to reboot the system and get back to work. 


Is it difficult to execute the crisis management best practices? So there was no; there were just business challenges. People think of them are in crisis. A crisis, I define, is something that kind of takes you off of your strategy. All good business. People have an annual, quarterly, weekly, or daily goal and strategy planned things. They wanted to accomplish things as they wanted to get done in order to move their business forward. A crisis takes you off strategy. So whatever that could be alright, it takes you away from that. And so you, you can think about it in the context of the deepwater horizon, the Macondo oil spill that we had in the Gulf of Mexico some years ago, if that affected BP, you can think about or any number of data breaches, sexual harassment, and the C suite. 


Did you have a hard time implementing crisis management best practices? These are sorts of moments in time, the episodes that really sort of impact and take a company away from what they had planned to do that day, that week, that month, and in that period of time that it was there. So that’s a Crisis Critical Moments we talk about in the book Critical Moments or these long tail endemic Reputation impacting issues. So, think about Uber prior to letting go of their CEO. Uber had a series of long-tail issues. They were not a car accident. There were not some data breaches in Crisis, but these were long-endemic issues. We saw a lot of this in the financial crisis. 


What are the crisis management best practices? We see it with organizations that don’t get their arms around race. We see it with organizations that don’t get their arms around what we call social risk, which is an issue that impacts populations. And so those are critical moments. So your range from just challenging business problems to these crisis incidents events that take you off strategy and then these long endemic things that are critical moments that may be that actually baked into your strategy in some contexts, but just really begin to impact your reputation over the long term. Okay. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Perception, Expectation, and Ownership


So, I think I have all three of those. Let me just give them back to you and ensure I’m tracking with you in my notes. So when you mentioned the basic three constructs, the first one being the business problems, the second one being crisis, and the third being critical moments.  Yep, exactly. Okay. 


So then again, it’s kind of high-level. So when we think of reputation management, I could maybe interpret that in a few different ways. So I want to get your expert insight. What does reputation management consist of? 


So you mentioned Seth Godin a little bit earlier, and so one of his best definitions, and I like, and then I sort of have my own that I’ve phrased is your reputation is kind of what the public thinks or expects you to say do or produce next. Okay. And so it is a perception about what I call the next expectation, all right. So it is the next thing that they expect you to do. So, if I were to say Walmart, you would have an expectation of what they would do. Low prices, big advertising. You probably wouldn’t think of them as one of the most progressive in largest solar of users of solar energy. 


Examples of crisis management best practices – Some of the most aggressive or environmentally conscious fleet management practices, such as Starbucks, are generally perceived by you. Good. You think Starbucks is going to innovate with new, whatever drink they will have, but they’re going to treat their employees, right? They’re going to give them online education. They’re going to let him go to Arizona State University. They are going to treat their baristas, right? When they screw up at an issue around race, they’re gonna solve it really fast. So you have this perception that you’re about a company, whether you think about it or not. And so that’s what Seth Godin talks about. It’s yours. It’s what I coined his next expectation. That’s the expectation of what people are gonna think to do or say next. You can also extrapolate that out, too. 


Your neighbor, if you know you loaned them a chainsaw, you might not ever see it back. But you know, to expect that, and that’s his or her reputation. The definition that I use is a company that owns its brand, and the public owns its reputation. I don’t shop at BP. You use there is always a good classic example. BP is not convenient for me. There’s no BP near where I am. A shell is easier and more convenient for me. So I am a shell customer. I’m not a BP customer, but I have an opinion because I’m now their public, not a customer. I have an opinion about BP. 


I’ve been in pain and have been shaped over the long term. And so when I say it, a company owns its brand, but the public owns its expertise, or the public owns its reputation. That’s where we get a little bit more clarity on the distinction from a business standpoint because you know this very well. There are brand managers, there are people within companies who manage brands, and they control various levers about user experience. They demand they command advertising dollars. They command features and benefits of products. That’s all brand public. What we tried to articulate in the four A’s book is that you can manage reputation the same way you can manage a brand if you’ve been in this business for a long time. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Aligning the Four A’s


And I know a lot of the people in the Onward Nation have been in the marketing business for a long time. We have perfected the last verse of marketing marketing. There are lots and lots of different things that you can do, from the smell of freshly baked cookies in a house that you’re trying to sell, that’s marketing to Facebook advertising, or you name it. There is a figure out. We believe that reputation can be managed in a nascent way in a much newer way, but it can be managed in a very similar way with similar models of similar structures. Okay. 


Well, that’s awesome. I’ve never thought of it, so let me give this back to you here and make sure I got your quilt in my notes correctly. I think I heard you say a company owns its brand, but the public owns it. Is that right? 


Reputation, whether you put the butter knot, is a grammatical question, but yes, that’s exactly the quote. Okay, well, that’s awesome. I’ve not heard it said that way before. So then, so then, let’s think about the four A’s here. And I’m wondering if this is going to be a train and a proper transition. So correct me if I’m making a leap here and this was not accurate, but I do the four A’s and then like it. If I, as a business owner, master the four H is like, is that going to assist me on both the public side of my reputation or our company’s reputation as well as then the private side where the company’s side of us owns our brands? So, like my ability to master the four A’s framework, is that helpful to your definition? 


Does your reputation affect crisis management best practices? Reputation yeah. Reputation yes. They don’t know that I leave. I don’t do brand; I don’t do marketing. That’s not what I do. Why leave that to people who are true experts in that? Okay. And so none of my work really as much as a brand experience or brand issues related to the brand or advertising or classic marketing and since it is, and you know that if they just do it, it’s an incredibly well-versed discipline that of marketing and brand is, is incredibly well articulated and ever-changing and evolving in their systems and models and processes and steps in all kinds of things to the story. And the way I, the way this came to me, this necessity of this is that I had just finished a crisis or a series of crisis events with an amazing female CEO based in New York and spent about a week together managing through this relatively high profile, New York Times Wall Street Journal article a series of articles on her enterprise. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Introducing the Four Ps Framework


And we got through it, and we found our way to the other side successfully. She kept her job in the company and kept on growing and thriving. But at the end of that week, we sat together, and I talked about the notion of reputation management. Back in those days, I was a very sort of earnest consultant and used lots of consultants, jargon, and lingo to try to explain what the hell I was talking about. And it never really worked. And so by the grace of God, she gave me the time and said, Bill, I think I get what you’re saying about reputation and that reputation can be managed, but I need a model. I need a framework. I need a system because I need to put assignments to it by people. 


How do you keep track of crisis management best practices? I need to be able to assign KPIs to it. And I need to then be able to assign a budget to it because, for every other discipline in my organization, that’s what I do. I give people accountability and responsibility, and I put a budget behind it. Whether it’s planning my annual conference with toilet paper for the bathroom, managing my HR onboarding system, managing my litigation portfolio, or whatever it is. That is what I do. I have an asset allocator, human assets, and money assets. That’s what I do as a CEO. So I need a model. Instead of all of this mambo-jumbo jargon you were talking about, So help me do that. Then she said, when really what I need is something like the four P’s of marketing. Even I know this intuitively: price, product place promotion, and the four P’s of marketing. 


It was a concept from the sixties, and it’s been around forever. We can argue whether it’s relevant in the age of society or not, but that’s beside the point: any good graduate school or business school. He also has a leader who has probably heard of the four P’s of marketing at some level. The magic behind the four P’s of marketing is that you can assign responsibility, including price, product, place, and promotion. And so if you go back and look at lots of different organizations, big or small, there is a VP of price. There is a VP of product, promotion, and place. And each of them has a budget assigned to them. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Building a Model for Business Success


And so that’s just how companies run. That’s how good a good organization is, big or small. I’m how they kind of do things. Now, whether you have four people doing it, one person doing it, or half a person doing it depends on the scale. So that’s what that challenge after this crisis, she said, I need a model. I flew home with a cocktail napkin, literally on the foldout lap table on the airplane back then. We used to do that. A fly on airplanes is that I crafted the four A’s model and refined it. That was the seed corn that ultimately became the book around four A’s. 


Wow. Okay. And I love the pyramid, by the way. I think it’s a really easy way to put it into a visual model and see a progression. Okay. So a great story. And I love how they have that piece of intellectual property that came out of that conversation, which was cool. And what was that about at the time, too, that you thought about writing then the book 


Well, the thought of a book had been on my mind for a long time. I had no idea what I was going to write about. You remember I was going to string together a dozen blog posts, but yeah, it had helped him. And then I don’t think it was quite as clear click fitting together immediately, but it ultimately became the IP that I wanted to hang some, hang some, hang myself on. 


That’s pretty cool. Hey, Onward Nation, I want to take a quick break from the Episode to share a practical and tactical Resource with you. When we first released our book profitable podcasting, it became a number one new release on Amazon in less than 18 hours. Well, that was nearly three years ago, and we’re still getting great feedback on, how helpful the book has been to business owners, just like you, as they launched a podcast to build the business. When I think of strategies that you can apply right now during these challenging times, having your own show, which would be a conduit that you could use to teach and share your insights with your community, launching a podcast, or growing your existing show really should be at the top of your list. 


I want to help you get started by giving you access to a free chapter of my book. Just go to, and you’ll get the chapter where I show you how to confront and overcome your three biggest obstacles to success. And we will send it right to your inbox. Okay. So, can you give us an overview of it? If you can do this, you could give us an overview of the four A’s, and then could we go into each of them? I’m going to say stages, and that’s probably wrong, but could we go into each of them with some depth? 


What’s the best approach to crisis management best practices? It was more about each level. Yeah. If they want you to go to ask them some questions, we can do it. So it’s a basic concept to the four H, so it’s awareness, assessment, authority, and then action. Basically, the process is intended to be very comparable to the notion of the four Ps. And I saw you nodding your head. That’s where you can assign a budget, and you can assign KPIs and responsibilities. So, each one of the four A’s is intended to be, have, have budget, accountability, and responsibility as a portion to them. So, the first is this notion of awareness, and it is this process of internal self-awareness around who we are. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: From Awareness to Action


What do we stand for? So it’s a lot about culture. It’s a lot about the issues related to the markets that we serve. You know, what are some of our philanthropic activities in the past? What are we doing? So it’s this notion of awareness of who you are. So whether it’s an internal audit or has issues related to Reputation, the book goes into a lot of detail about that. So that’s the first step, which is this notion of awareness: self-awareness and awareness of who your company is. The second is assessment. I believe in marketing or in reputation. There is no reason to guess what moves the public. Go ask them to go ask the public. So, assessment is a question. It’s asking your employees, who are critical internal stakeholders. 


What are your expectations of our reputation? What do you want our reputation to be? Go ask your key customers, your key vendors, suppliers, partners, allies, alumni, whatever the case may be a success, their beliefs about your reputation assess where they think you stand, what they think you excel at, what they think you could Excel at. Then, let the third step be authority, which is all about leadership. So once you become aware of who you are culturally, historically, and informationally, you’ve assessed and asked critical stakeholders around you. What is important? You then go to your leadership team and say, here is what we have found. Do we have permission to actually go further and take steps to take action? 


The worst thing that can happen in a reputation management campaign is that you’ll see that the leadership doesn’t walk the walk and that it’s all talk the talk, right? And so you really need to own this stuff. And that’s where we see Starbucks. So excellent. These challenges happen to them because they’re aware they do great assessments. They’ve got buy-in from their leadership and they know where they stand. So if you build on those three steps of awareness assessment and then Authority, a feature we might not have noticed even in the imagery is that there is a solid blue line that separates action, which is the apex of the pyramid. And authority, that’s the brain. That’s the membrane. 


That’s the barrier between well-intentioned guys like me. They want to run in and say, Stephen incorporated, I’ve got your solution to go do this. Here’s the action. Hire me. And I’ll take action for you. I don’t care about your awareness or your assessment or even whether your CEO believes it. But if I have a bridge to sell you, And so the blue line is actually an intentional membrane that has to be pierced before you actually take this step to action now, or it could be a well-intentioned consultant like me, or it could be somebody in your organization that says, we need to go support LBGTQ issues. We need to go give our employees Fridays off. 


We need to support a $15 minimum wage, whatever the issue is of the day. And you’ve not done anything on that process. When I lived overseas, I had a friend of mine who was one of the Marines who guarded the embassy tour. He thought he was a stud and I was training to run a marathon. I’ve been training for about six months to try to get my act together and survive in a marathon. We were; I was having a recreational beer Thursday night before the Saturday race, and the Marine said, I’m gonna do it. I’m ready for action. And so, as I think about Reputation and management, he didn’t finish. Needless to say, he was going to run a marathon, and having fun, he decided Thursday night on Saturday morning that he was going to run the marathon. How far did he go?


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Avoiding Knee-Jerk Reactions


But he’s a Marine, and he didn’t make it, didn’t make it as far as I did. I finished. He didn’t make it as far as I did, but that’s what’s in my mind is that we just say, Hey, we are going to do this, and we are gonna fix our reputation, and we’re going to start Monday. It doesn’t work that way. Okay. And so you would never do that with a product. You would never do that with something, an attribute of your brand. You would never let a client or someone that you work with do it without some sort of evaluation assessment permission from leadership. That’s why that blue line is there before we go into action. 


Yeah. I liked it very much. And my guess is that you’ve seen horror stories from companies that love the Marines story, most of it. Cause I was in the Air Force when we were the best. But, anyway, joking aside for all our Marines who might be listening. I had my new son-in-law as a Marine. We’re all brothers and sisters in arms. So, all joking aside, there it is, cool Marine story, but this helps avoid the knee-jerk reaction because you’ve probably seen in, in, in maybe if you can see a sort of sanitize a story here to not call out a particular company, but you’ve probably seen companies who said, we’re gonna fix our reputation on Monday. 


Then, we went down a path that and may have caused more harm than good. Does that make sense? 


Drew was totally true. You know, so people get really, and honestly, I let me tie it back into something that we saw in 2020. And so when we were talking about this horrible, this horrible year, this year of discomfort that we’ve all gone through, you’re obviously thinking in the context of the impact of COVID had on society and had an impact on employees and companies in all aspects of our business, particularly the retail and the hospitality industry. But we also sometimes lose sight of the fact of the summer of 2020 and social justice and George Floyd. And on the issue is around is the impact of his murder that it had on society. 


And so an example is companies at that moment in time jumping to action and saying, we’re going to write a check to the NAACP. We are going to write a check on the matter of black lives. We are going to increase our recruiting to historically black colleges and universities. We’re going to do this, and the other thing, the community that was paying attention that cared about that, that in those moments in social justice punished companies that just threw up this sugar flavored rocket to try to improve their reputation. ’cause they look deeply at the weather. 


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Crisis Management Best Practices: The Importance of Walking the Walk


They had actually walked the walk over time. Oh, okay. So interesting. So it looks like they were just being patronized thing because that was the thing that should be done, but by uncovering the actual belief system or the values of the business, they could see the congruency. 


Absolutely. One of the key learnings, the simple learning, and the wine, and we’ve seen it in so many memes, is to use their name, the name of these individuals that have died at the hands of law enforcement. So we see the names of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. And we see all of the names of all of these, these individuals that have tragically died in the hands of law enforcement. What we found is that immediately jumping to action without saying the name did not align with exactly what you just said, those cultural values and expectations that you would have learned through some sort of awareness assessment and Authority process in order to jump to that action. 


And so that’s a perfect example of what we’re looking for. I’m not talking about a year-long process of Naval gazing, but it is what the community really wants as opposed to Crisis on Monday or Tuesday; I’m going to write a big check, and we’re not going to go green mail on our way out of this, is that what we learned? And we had plants screw it up because I had him. I helped him screw it up is that we didn’t use the names. We didn’t talk about this as harm to people as individuals. Additionally, we used the old playbook that said, Hey, I’m a big regional bank. Issues of racial justice are not my lane. I’m not going to talk about that. I’m just going to stick to what I know, which is servicing loans for small businesses. 


That’s not my lane. That was a very appropriate strategy five years ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago. However, the public’s expectations have changed significantly. If it didn’t matter who you are, you need to have a role in that, but going to act action without awareness, assessment, and authority is a really pretty sure way to screw it up. 


That’s the solid blue line to your point before, right? It keeps me from giving you a good idea as well.


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[H3] Crisis Management Best Practices: Applying the Four A’s Model to Life and Business 


But you know, joke on the side here. And I think the process is the process for a reason. And the blue line is there because, yes, you can move to action, but should you, if you’re disrespecting the awareness, the assessment Authority in how they stack on to one another and you’re trying to circumvent it because candidly if your motivation to circumvent the process is to get the headlines faster. Then, we ought to question the true motivation for actually doing it. If you’re trying to garner headlines or if you’re trying to create impact, those are two things, right? Absolutely. 


100% very, very well said. And that’s exactly the case that the public’s expectations are formed over a long track record of experiences and observations. They are not. We don’t get there with a buy one, get one free sale on things on black Friday. We had — that’s the domain of brand. Okay. And we can move sentiment and move dollars by doing those types of things in the brand category. And you can’t pull that off in a Reputation candidate category. There is no buy one, get one free equivalency. And Reputation because it is long and slow and hard, and it’s rooted in your mission and your values 


Is it? This is awesome. I love the way that you explained all four. So, an awareness assessment Authority action. Before we, because I know that we’re quickly running out of time. Are there any additional layers you would like to add to either of those? Maybe all of them, but do you think we covered them the way that you would like to be able to share them with Onward Nation? 


Well, I think there’s real value for the Onward Nation. I’m just thinking about that. And I think it equates to both human dynamics. I take the Maureen and the marathon again, is that anybody, I don’t know if you’ve done a marathon are looked at any sort of physical event like that? One of the first recommendations is to visit your doctor. And that was kind of a first recommendation. That’s an awareness assessment. Do I really want to do this? And then Authority asks your partner, your wife, your kids, Hey, I’m going to miss some dinners or miss some breakfast because I’m going to be training a long time. That’s a recipe for success. So whether you’re a big business or a small business or a human, just trying to operationalize your life. I think the foray model really is very relevant for a number of different things. 


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Crisis Management Best Practices: Navigating Reputation Management in Business


We don’t just jump to action and we all get jazzed about the go, go, go, go fast, fast Silicon Valley startup. That rarely works in the normal world of work. For those of us that are impacted by gravity, a neat oxygen. We can’t really operate that way. We it’s helpful to have a plan or a process. 


I love this for a number of different reasons. And in, in here’s one of ’em Bill on the show, we often talk about how a business owner can plant his or her flag of Authority and then in a particular niche that they served and then be able to monetize that position over time. When you said a company owns this brand and then the public owns its reputation, that added some additional clarity, like if we’re planting our flag Authority and in it, we’re going to claim using your words, stake a claim to this spot. And then, we’re using that as a point to teach, share, and be helpful to our audience. 


I love this framework of awareness assessment. Authority is what I think about that firm, like a content strategy in our grant. And I’m running that through a marketer’s mind and about that from a content strategy. I’m like, my goodness, that really opens up an entirely new spectrum of things that I can teach from. And then really when there is that next, going back to my notes, when there’s that next critical moment, I’m hopefully then, in a much better position to speak to that critical moment with credibility, as opposed to looking like I’m trying to capitalize on something awful that happened. 


And then, to that is the payoff sort of the benefit of why you go on this reputation management journey is that if you do stub your toe and have one of these crises or Critical Moments events, is that if you build a reservoir of Goodwill actually, so that you say, Hmm, that’s not the Stephen incorporated. I, no, I think of them this way. So, you expect something from BP, something from Walmart, and something from Starbucks. Is there Starbucks in those two or three? Examples get the benefit of the doubt because they’ve built a reservoir of Goodwill over time to create a Reputation impression. 


And that is really important. And that’s what we’re striving to do. And that is not the domain of large companies, small companies that serve maybe five employees and 50 clients. That’s what you’re looking for is that reservoir of Goodwill because you might be late delivering a project, or you might need to fire someone, and you want to do it with humanity and care because the next time you have to do what you want people and say, Hey, that’s the company. I know that the way they handled it was the way that I expected them to handle it. That’s what you’re looking for. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation


Crisis Management Best Practices: Last Bit of Advice and Connect with Bill


I love that it speaks to, like, built-in grace. Yeah. I love it. You know, because the reality is that we’re human, and we all make missteps, some worse than others, but being able to build in the Goodwill slash grace is super, super important. Wow. This has been awesome. I am so very grateful for your time. I know we covered a lot, but before we go, before we close out and say goodbye, Bill, is there any final advice you would like to share? Anything that you think we might have missed? And then please do tell Onward Nation the best way to connect you. 


Well, that’s awesome. Well, I’ll start there at the end. And so we’ve got our website And we’ll have a number of Resources and some information. We try to be as generous as we can with our content and our information. So we published the show notes with people, see that they can just go to our website, backslash Onward Nation, and understand and get all of that content they are happy to follow up. Is anybody that’s appropriate? That’s curious. I often get asked by small business owners. What’s the one thing that I can do? I get all of this Reputation stuff. And you’ve talked about Starbucks, big companies, Walmart, BP, et cetera. 


What can I do? And from a crisis readiness standpoint. And so it’s even a precursor to reputation management. And so the best advice I give is that you, with your leadership team or your employee meeting, or whatever you, whatever your or their venue is, have weekly, monthly, annually, whenever you get everybody together for our strategy meeting, pull up the New York Times at the wall street journal or the trade publication that impacts your, your industry. And say, as the leader, what if this had happened to us, just rip from the headlines, Good all the good law and order fashioned from the headlines. If this were to happen to us, how would we respond? Then, listen as a leader, and you will hear all kinds of different opinions. 


You will see the bad behaviors of your general council. You will see the shuck and jive of your head of operations, and you will really understand where you stand. And then, if you do this as a practice, as a simple simulation, what would we do to learn so much? You might learn what we’ve got insurance for that, or you might learn, well, we don’t have insurance that you can learn or any number of infinite things. So a simple takeaway from the Onward Nation is whether they’re advising their clients or Crises that might impact them. And just pull out the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and your trade publications and say, what if this had happened to us? What would we do? Simple type, simple. Take-away. That is simple, but that’s a really powerful litmus test. 


Do you learn a lot? If you then stop talking and listen as a leader of the leader of getting to learn a whole lot, that’s like putting the stress test on how it prepared you actually exactly the way.


I love that, but in those days, Oh my gosh. That is awesome. Well, thank you. Okay. Onward Nation, no matter how many notes you took, and I took a ton, or how many times you go back in to listen to Bill’s words of wisdom, which I sure hope that you do, the key is you have to take action now, across the blue line. You first need to work through the awareness assessment authority and then take some action. All joking aside. He gave you a framework that you can take action on as a whole to begin putting this process into place inside your business and making sure that if you do the rip from the headlines litmus tests, you’re prepared that will show you where you’re not. 


And so that was just awesome. And Bill, I am so very grateful that you said yes to come on to the show, to be our mentor and guide, and to help us move our businesses onward to that next level. Thank you so much, Bill. 


Well, Stephen, thank you for what you’re doing. It’s a great podcast and great leadership that you provide. So thank you for that as well. I look forward to the follow-up and then continuing the relationship. So thank you. 


This episode is complete. So head over to for show notes and more foods to fuel your ambition. Continue to find your recipe for success here at Onward Nation. 


Elevate your knowledge about crisis management best practices by following this guide: What Makes a Successful Crisis Simulation

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