No one wants a crisis. But should your business find itself in a situation where one descends upon it, remember one thing: People won’t remember the details of the crisis but they will remember how it was handled. That’s what sticks.

Consider the back to back airline PR disasters- United and American Airlines’  recent passenger situations.


The wrong way to handle a crisis

United Airlines failed to acknowledge the problem for two days, initially denied responsibility, took no actions, saw its stock plunge and still hasn’t recovered. The CEO is no longer up for the promotion he was hoping for and inevitably may not have a future with United.


The right way to handle a crisis

American Airlines acknowledged the problem immediately. Apologized immediately. Took action immediately- putting the participating players on leave and accepted responsibility. The CEO and its stock remained stable.

Here are the five fundamentals on handling a crisis, which can happen to anyone. So be ready and anticipate what you will do and have a plan to handle it.


1. Recognize you are in a video world.

85% of all adults have a cell phone with a functioning video camera. Every misstep is on display for the world to see instantly. And it may go viral in seconds. David Dao, who was forcibly removed from United flight 3411, became a household name and so did United’s CEO Oscar Munoz. Dao’s bloody face with missing teeth, smashed against an armrest is a visual PR consultants are having a hard time dismissing from people’s minds. This means everyone’s reaction is catalogued and is subject to public review. If you know this, you can make sure you are casting the right light when in an unpleasant situation- like on an overbooked flight. If these flight attendants, Police officers, etc had been conscious of this, they may have acted differently. And the story may have been less dramatic and damaging.


2. Educate everyone in the company on how to act during inflammatory situations.

I am sure employees of every airline around the world are doing drills on how to handle overbooking situations and how not to deplane a passenger. This applies to almost all companies who deal with the public. Every company should have a plan that is shared with employees on how to react in these situations.


3. Say you’re sorry and look like you mean it.

Munoz caught a great deal of negative attention because it did not appear to be authentic. If you are in a situation where you are going on TV to apologize, practice the apology on video and watch your nonverbal communication.


4. Take steps to correct the situation.

Create a prepared statement with how you or your company is handling the problem and how you are going to prevent it. Make sure you are in control of the message. Posting it on social media and your website so it can be done without interruption or outside influences.


5. Monitor, monitor, monitor.

Social media and blog monitoring should be done around the clock. The responses should be well thought out and include messaging that addresses the concerns relative to the crisis. Also invest in an electronic clipping service that gathers all media coverage on a dashboard so that you are aware of the prevailing conversation.