Posted by: lmbshepard | April 13, 2012

Crisis is the new black

Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about what truly makes a crisis. It seems like everyday there is a new crisis to be consumed, deconstructed and analyzed.  Then I came across an article on The Wall Street Journal online titled the Short Life of a PR Nightmare that discusses the rapid nature of a crisis and how fast it can fade away.  It got me thinking about some of the incidents that are pegged as a “crisis” today. Are they really a crisis or are they something closer to an inconvenience, an embarrassment or a gaffe? Cases like Penn State, the Costa Concorida crash, Toyota’s sticking gas pedal and even Taco Bell’s meatless meat taco should be considered real crises and treated as such.  But should every slip be considered a crisis?

Let consider two recent incidents. Who can forget the short-lived fuss made about President Obama talking about having “more flexibility after the election” into an open microphone? Was this a crisis, a gaffe or an intentional signal being sent from a President who knows his way around a live microphone? We may never know. What we do know is that it wasn’t a crisis. Or, how about Romney Senior Advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” moment? This certainly wasn’t a crisis, heck it wasn’t even a crisis in the campaign world but the media treated it like it was.  The public and the media love a crisis and both enjoy making hay out of another’s embarrassing moment for sport and to fulfill our appetite for schadenfreude.  It is almost as if having a crisis has become stylish. Yes, stylish and to prove my point ABC just launched a new show about crisis communicators called Scandal that glamorizes the work.

The problem with labeling everything a crisis is that crisis becomes the norm and we don’t even react to real crises anymore. Soon we’ll find ourselves in a society where we storm, pout and even mourn for five minutes on social media about the crisis of the moment and then we’ll move on.

Oh, wait we are already there. 


  1. I agree Laura. We’re becoming desensitized. We love an exciting new scandal and the drama of reacting to it and then… bored, move on to the next thrilling crisis. Watergate was a true scandal, but a lot of others that the media gives the suffix “gate” to aren’t. When’s the last time you thought about …

    Nipplegate – Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl.

    Hackgate – News of the World hacking into celebrities and politicians cell phones.

    Slutgate – Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut for supporting Obama’s contraception plan.

    Troopergate – Palin firing Alaska’s public safety commissioner for not firing her former brother-in-law, a state trooper.

    Weinergate – US Rep Anthony Weiner tweeting revealing self-photographs.

    Bountygate – New Orleans Saints giving financial rewards for injuring offensive players.

  2. Agreed. Crisis IS the new black and you must pick the right designer. Case and point – Taco Bell’s “Thank you for suing us” campaign. Now, Taco Bell is not a company I am typically interested in. In fact, it has probably been years since I’ve actually eaten there (although I was a frequent shopper in my college years – exactly their target market). However, they worked wonders during the January 2011 lawsuit filed against them for misrepresentation of their seasoned beef. This is a great example of seizing an opportunity. They launched a witty and attention grabbing print campaign, were all over it on their Facebook page, and even had their CEO broadcasting YouTube videos. Even when the dust had settled on the lawsuit, they kept going. They appeared to not be satisfied until the entire world knew about Taco Bell and the recipe for their seasoned beef. Taco Bell Corp. definitely picked the right designer when it came to their crisis communication.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

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