Melissa Agnes: Crisis

The lovely Melissa Agnes shares her insight into the word “Crisis”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy learning from being a fly on the wall to our discussion.

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The full transcript

Phil Jones: So, here we have it, another episode of Words With Friends. And who do I have today? I have one of my very best friends in the whole entire world. This is Melissa Agnes. Melissa, welcome.

Melissa Agnes: Hey Phil.

Phil Jones: So, what are we talking about today? I put Melissa Agnes on the show; I guess there’s only one word that you can talk about, and that would be the word “crisis”.
So, Melissa Agnes is a crisis management expert; wrote the book Crisis Ready, so I thought if there’s anybody to talk about the word “crisis”, Melissa would be the best person to shoot. So, help me understand from the get go. What is a crisis?

Melissa Agnes: What is a crisis. A crisis is any type of negative event or situation that stops business as usual to some extend, needs escalation directly straight up to the top to leadership because we need leadership’s guidance and directives. Why? Because it presents long term negative impact on either or all of people, the environment, business, operations, the organization’s reputation, and/or the organization’s bottom line. That is a crisis.

Phil Jones: Don’t we have crisis in our lives though as well, just like as normal people?

Melissa Agnes: Sure.

Phil Jones: So, how does that definition then relate? Say for example, I have nothing to wear, like I don’t know what to wear. It’s a crisis.

Melissa Agnes: Does that threaten long term negative impact on people, environment, business operations, reputation, bottom line? What you’re talking about is an issue.

Phil Jones: Okay. Well, it doesn’t feel like an issue at the time. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been at an event and I’m supposed to be wearing formal dress, and all I’ve got is a t-shirt and jeans. And to me, at that moment in time, I’m like, “My goodness, this is a crisis. What am I gonna do?”

Melissa Agnes: Why weren’t you ready?

Phil Jones: Well, sometimes you get thrown curve balls in life, right?

Melissa Agnes: Yes. Which is the importance of being crisis ready I suppose. Not I suppose. Makes a valid point towards it.

Phil Jones: Well, you talked a second ago about the difference between a crisis and an issue, right. You said that there is some things that are a genuine crisis and some things an issue. I get it in a business context in terms of this need for escalation, etc. But how do I determine in the simpler, more purer form as just an average person, when is something a crisis and when is something an issue?

Melissa Agnes: I look at the long term impact; the long term negative impact. One thing I wanna be clear about is I don’t do personal crises. So, that is not, you know, mid-life crisis and not knowing what to wear; not my area.

But if you do wanna look at from a more substantive point of view of when would something potentially materially impact your livelihood, your family, your stakeholders whether we’re talking business or, I suppose, as a professional brand or personal brand in that regard. Versus when is it a negative situation that does not threaten long term material impact.

Phil Jones: Right.

Melissa Agnes: And if you manage it effectively, you can actually transform it into an opportunity.

Phil Jones: Okay, so you’re turning it into an opportunity. I like that. Now you said you don’t do mid-life crisis, so we’re obviously gonna talk about that thing. And why is it that people get to this point … and they say, “I’m having a mid-life crisis.” Why is that word attached to those things and how does it differ to what your definition of crisis is?

Melissa Agnes: So, it doesn’t necessarily differ. It’s that my area of expertise is organizational; it’s not personal.

Phil Jones: I know, but my job here is to talk to you about something that isn’t necessarily always how you’re gonna talk about your thing in a very cookie-cutter way, and I know that you’re press-trained. So, my job is to mess with you a little.

And I really mean this though, from the point of view of people listening in to us right now. It is a word that gets thrown around that can be applied to dozens of sets of circumstances, and as a result of which that we end up with a lack of understanding of what its meaning is. It kinda gets attached to that, like you said, mid-life crisis.

Now, if I take your definition of a situation or set of circumstances that potentially could have long term negative impact or change, and apply that toward mid-life crisis, isn’t a mid-life crisis just a stage of indecision? Isn’t it just like a moment full of questions over self? As opposed to anything that even is worthy of having the word crisis attached to it. Or, like,

Melissa Agnes: Okay. So, I am going to say that I’m not an expert in mid-life crises. Okay. I’m gonna make that clear.

However, what you’re talking about is the emotional impact, right. So, if we look at a mid-life crisis, I don’t have experience in that professionally, nor do I personally. I’ve never had a mid-life crisis; not yet anyway. But it’s an emotional thing, right. It’s based from emotion. Or it’s based off of emotion.

Therefore, if we look at crisis, one of the biggest things that bring issue to crisis level, whether personally or professionally, is that emotional relatability factor.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, the long term damage could be emotion damage as well as financial, fiscal, environmental damage. It could be something that actually just touches somebody’s heart or soul.

Melissa Agnes: So, if it touches the heart or soul, it risks having material impact as well as going viral in this day and age. Having an emotional toll, or a lasting emotional toll, brings us back to impact on people.

Phil Jones: Right. So, when I was reading your book, Crisis Ready, one of the things that comes out in one of the early chapters is this idea of people first. And often the things that which people associate a crisis is is something that is self-centered. We understand, and I got from reading your book is, one of the things we should think about more is the entire group of stakeholders affected by a crisis; more so than just it’s potential impact on you for selfish reasons.
Talk or touch more about that because I thought that was quite a big point; it hit me quite hard.

Melissa Agnes: So, one of the crisis ready rules is that it’s people above process and bottom line always. Often times organizations or professionals will come to me and say, “Which industry do you specialize in?” And the reality is that my clients range across the board. The spectrum of industry that I work with is full spectrum. The reason being is that business is about people. The reason any successful business operates is because of its relationships with people. Crisis management is about people.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: Therefore, people first.

Phil Jones: Okay. Back around to this crisis issue thing. Help me understand difference between crisis and issue. Throw me some examples where one would be a crisis and one would be an issue.

Melissa Agnes: Great example that I like to use is the Oscars two years ago. So, not this year, but last year.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: Make that real in 2017. Make it Evergreen. So, Oscars 2017. The last scene, the last award is always the coveted … what is it. The best picture, right? The best picture. “La La Land” gets named as best picture. Announcer opens up the envelope, reads that it’s “La La Land”, everybody from “La La Land” comes up onto stage, they are three acceptance speeches in when somebody realizes that, “Oops, wrong envelope. “La La Land” didn’t win, “Moonlight” won.” For the next several days, probably up to a week, the buzz was all around, “Oh my goodness, did you see the crisis at the Oscars?”

Phil Jones: Right.

Melissa Agnes: So, if we put that through the lens of issue versus crisis, this did not stop business as usual in any extent, right. This needed to be managed, and then business continued to move on. It did not threaten long term material impact on the Oscars’ reputation, on people, on the bottom line, on any of these factors; because the Oscars weren’t at fault here and it was just a simple mistake that went viral, but that needed to be fixed.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: This was an issue for the Oscars; it was a viral issue. Whereas if we look at it, the same scenario, PWC is the accounting firm who is responsible for counting the ballots, tallying up the ballots, figuring out who won, and handing over those envelopes to the announcers. PWC, the two partners at PWC, messed up here and handed the wrong envelope off.

Let’s picture leadership at home, PWC leadership at home, on their couch, eating popcorn, with their family watching the Oscars. Did they just sit back and watch this unfold? Or did they jump up, and the next day at the office, did business stop as usual? Absolutely. They needed to mitigate the impact on the relationship with the Oscars. They needed to make sure that stakeholders didn’t start second guessing whether they could trust them with their money if they couldn’t trust them with an envelope. This was a potential crisis for PWC. So, that long term material impact.

Same scenario, one was an issue for one organization, the other one was a potential crisis for the other organization.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, for the Oscars, they were in a spot of bother, it was a little bit embarrassing, it was slightly frustrating at the time. However, they got over it and can get over it. Yet for the accountancy firm, potential risk is lost business. And for the individuals in hand, it could lead to lost jobs, or certainly loss of face; loss of respect that had been overlooked potentially for other future promotions, other areas of responsibility. Could have had a significant crisis.

Melissa Agnes: Definitely a crisis for them.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: As well as their physical safety as it turned out.

Phil Jones: So, we could look maybe in a little while about how people in businesses can be a little more crisis ready. But what about when a crisis arises, and stuff goes wrong, right. Stuff goes wrong in your life, stuff goes wrong in business. What do I do when something goes wrong?

Melissa Agnes: What do you do when something goes wrong? Kind of an awkward question. You get together with the right people to assess the material impact on the situation; figure out the strategy. But, let’s back up a step.

Before something goes wrong, what you want is … Being crisis ready is more than just having a crisis management plan that’s in on a shelf. That, today, actually puts organizations at a disadvantage because the second you reach for that plan, you’re already playing catch-up. Demands of stakeholders are already surging through the roofs, the media has probably already caught wind, the story might already be going viral; you’re already playing catch-up.

So, it’s not about what do you do when something goes wrong, but what do you do now in the event that something goes wrong to train and empower your team so that they understand what risks looks like.

So, issue versus crisis for your organization; what does that look like and what are the telltale signs of something. For example, emotional relatability, as we talked about earlier. How do they … What do they do once they detect that? Who do they escalate that to? Are they responsible for taking some form of action? What does that look like? And then teach them and train them to respond in a way that doesn’t just manage the issue and put it to bed, but that actually manages it in a way that exceeds stakeholder expectations. So as to come out of a negative situation, mitigating it from escalating to crisis level, as well as turning it into an opportunity that actually connects you closer on a values-based level with your stakeholders.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, in a business setting it can lead to potential uplift; it can lead to a good thing. It can lead to maybe an enhanced brand experience and increased levels of loyalty etc.
But what if I’m listening to us right now talking, and I’m thinking, “Well, I don’t have a big organization. I’m not in leadership, but I do have things that go wrong in my life. I do have fear that I’m attached even as a small business owner.” And I’m thinking, “Well, how does this relate to me?”

Melissa Agnes: It absolutely relates. So, let’s look at … We can take me for example. I’m not a huge organization, I don’t have a ton of employees. I do know, however, that as an entrepreneur, there are a handful of high-risk scenarios that if these were to strike me, my livelihood would be impacted.

Phil Jones: Right.

Melissa Agnes: So, for example as an entrepreneur, illness.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: That would be a high-risk scenario for me. So, what can I do now, whether it’s to mitigate that, whether it’s from being healthy; active lifestyle, to having the right insurances, right. That if that were to happen beyond my control, my livelihood wouldn’t potentially be impacted.

There are high-risk scenarios for every single organization, no matter its size, its type, its industry; whatever the cases may be. You need to know those. Because the only way to mitigate them from happening and then to be ready for them in the event that they do happen, and to mitigate that negative long term impact, is to actually be aware of their existence right now.

Phil Jones: So, even though it’s not necessarily your area of expertise, what we’re talking about here is the ability to say, “What could go wrong?” And, “What could go wrong that would have a lasting negative impact.” And almost to take the time and say, “Well, let’s document a list of these.” Or, “Let’s discuss it with the other key stakeholders.” Even if it’s in your family unit, even considering what could go wrong there ahead of time might be a smart move.

Melissa Agnes: Absolutely. And it also puts it in perspective. So, if you know what your most pertinent high-risk scenarios are, when something happens as a negative thing that isn’t one of those, that puts it in perspective to you that you have more chances of responding appropriately and not overreacting, or under-reacting, as a result.

Phil Jones: When I think of the word “crisis”, it conjured up images of panic and despair and worry, and like, “Oh my god, there’s a crisis.” It looks like pandemonium in my mind’s eye. And I’m sure many of the people listening in would think “crisis” and associate it to pandemonium too.

Why is that?

Melissa Agnes: Because crises are negative events. And it’s highly emotional. I mean, if you think about … they’re negative events and their highly emotional; that’s the answer. And that’s completely human nature to respond in that way, or to see them through that lens. Nobody wants something back to happen.

Phil Jones: Okay. But when it does happen, why is the natural response to be panicked in uncertainty. I guess that’s what I’m such . . .

Melissa Agnes: You asking? I think it’s human nature. Even when it’s … Even from a business perspective when we’re so close to our business and the situation. I mean, the Oscars could feel like a crisis, right. It’s gone viral and it’s not.

One of the phases of becoming crisis ready is to build it into the culture, or to gain experience in managing issues and crises in controlled and safe environments that feel very, very real. So I do that through simulations. That enables the team to build relationships and trust within one another, but also to put things into perspective.

So, I always say that you never want to experience a crisis, but in a crisis, you hope to have experience.

Phil Jones: Ah, I love it.

Melissa Agnes: The more you can put your team through exercises that actually feel very real, but that don’t have any … no impact, right, except evolution and growth and all of these wonderful things. Then the less likely … the less at risk you are of having an emotional response; a negative emotional response to a breaking incident.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, what you’re saying is the panic comes from a fear of not knowing what to do.

Melissa Agnes: It can come from a fear of not knowing what to do. It can come from a fear of … or just the sheer fact that something surprised you; you didn’t expect it.

Look at what happened with Crock-Pot recently, right. Where they woke up and, not Crock-Pot; just a generic slow cooker, was part of the plot line on the hit show “This is Us” that killed off one of the main characters. And Crock-Pot, completely blindsided, woke up to this frenzy; this storm. The news had gone national, and people were so devastatingly impacted as a result, that they were threatening to throw their Crock-Pot machines and never use the brand again.

Phil Jones: Right.

Melissa Agnes: That can be … I mean, you wake up to that. You wake up to this frenzy of that. So, it’s normal to panic or to have some kind of emotional response to that. But again, the better prepared you are, the less likely that emotional response will have a negative impact.

Phil Jones: So, if you’ve gone to the kind of spaces of, “If this then happens, here’s what I might do.” And whether that simulation is a beautifully modeled out experience, or whether it’s just something you have as a discussion with friends, family members, or loved ones, or other key stakeholders in your business; it allows you to make a more calculated set of steps should the bad thing go wrong.

Melissa Agnes: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Jones: Okay. Now, let’s play this down a real minutia set of detail. Then something goes wrong, what’s the first thought, or what’s the first question that we should be asking of ourselves? Like, I’m in a situation where I think I might be in a crisis, how do I identify quickly whether this is an issue or a crisis? What is the kind of conversation that I should be having in my own head?

Melissa Agnes: Or with your team. What’s the emotional relatability factor? That’s the first thing to look at versus if you’re not sure whether or not this is an issue or a crisis, if you wanna look at the impact on people, the impact on the environment; either or … or both, and the emotional relatability factor. So, if something is emotionally compelling, and we know that if we share it, other people will relate to that emotional, compelling story, or feeling, then we’re gonna share it.

Therefore, something that is emotionally compelling and relatable in a negative way, as well as in a positive way, but we’re talking about crisis management here. If it’s emotionally compelling and relatable, it has heightened risk of escalating.

Phil Jones: Okay. Give me a scenario that is as simple as it could possibly be. Because I’m seeing some of this stuff where it might relate to a big organization, or when something goes wrong with a brand. But what about just real life human scenarios where that emotional ability question comes into play. How do I use that if I don’t have a big team, and that I don’t have dozens of people to sit down and talk to them through and strategize. If I’m in fear of the fact that this might be a crisis situation that could potentially have some lasting results for me, what is the conversation in my head?

Melissa Agnes: Are we taking brands here, or are we talking mid-life crisis?

Phil Jones: I’m talking people across the board. Seeing something as a big picture, I can kinda get it. When I start thinking about, “Okay, what are crisis that are happening, or potential, or perceived, or labeled crisis that happen in every day life, or that happen in somebody’s small business?

Melissa Agnes: Okay.

Phil Jones: And I know this is a different area for you. But just . . .

Melissa Agnes: It’s not. So, Justine Sacco was a director, a VP of large organization and of their communications department, okay. She is from South Africa. She was getting onto a plane, she tweeted out a very sarcastic and non-literal tweet that said, and I’m paraphrasing here; but something about, “On my way to South Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Ha ha, just kidding, I’m white.” Something like that, kay, that was paraphrased. She gets on the plane; it’s like an 11 or 13 hour flight. She gets off the plane, and her life is completely changed. She lost her job, the story had gone global; viral. There were people waiting for her to take her picture when she landed in Cape Cod at the airport.

So, if we dissect why … and that’s one tweet. And actually, I believe that her following was like 153 people, and it still had that impact. One wrong person saw that tweet, and it just went crazy.
If we look at the emotional relatability and taken out of context, or out of context in her mind, but in context of one tweet of 140 characters long, without her also being online and present to put any context around that and to defend herself. So, before it escalated to that point, the emotional relatability of that is, “What the hell is this woman talking about. How ignorant is she.” And this is the VP of Comms for a major organization. There was that emotional factor that caught somebody’s attention in the first place, and then the relatability factor of that that sent it going viral.

Phil Jones: Okay. Got it. So, we have an emotional risk here, right. It’s with everything we tweet, everything we post on Facebook. Anybody now listening to us talking could be thinking, “Well, I’m now scared of typing anything or sending anything again, for the risk of what it could go on to be or to lead towards.” Or certainly not anything that could be deemed as an opinion that could be judgmental.

Melissa Agnes: Yeah, well, one of the crisis ready rules is never launch any product, campaign, or communication without assessing the potential risk. You shouldn’t.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: And if you … go ahead.

Phil Jones: So, that same is true for every given individual is like, before pressing send, or “hitting the damn button” as a mutual friend of ours would say.

Melissa Agnes: Absolutely.

Phil Jones: There should be a split second where we consider some things. What are those things that we should consider?

Melissa Agnes: Well, if you’re … okay. First thing, normally we have some kind of indication. There’s usually something within us, a voice within us, that’s maybe saying, “Eh, what’s the risk here?” Or maybe that’s just me who sees risk everywhere. But, couple things that you wanna ask yourself is how can this be misinterpreted? How can it be misunderstood? How can it be misconstrued?

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: And that should be a process in every single … Whether we’re talking individually like you are, or in your communications department, your PR department, your marketing team; this should be a part of the process for every single campaign and communication.

Phil Jones: Okay. And that’s such a good point to bring up as well because so many people talk about like, gorilla marketing tactics, or something needs to be attention grabbing, or what we’re looking to do is put shock factor or risk factor into a subject line, or a headline, or an email in order to trigger a response. And the more cliché it could be, or the more risque it could be, then the higher you might get open rate.

Some of those pieces of advice could be taken out of context, and without consideration of how it could be misinterpreted or misconstrued, are the kind of things that could have you in a bit of deep water; that might result in a potential crisis.

Melissa Agnes: And we see … or at least a viral issue, right. It doesn’t have to necessarily escalate to crisis level, but a viral issue is not something … if we can avoid that, we want to; we should. And we see it happen all the time.

Phil Jones: Right, right. So, just taking that breath and saying, “How could this be misinterpreted?” before you click go might be worth while. And I suppose also considering … I’m just kinda thinking out loud here, is like, who the audience is, how closed off is this? And also how relevant is it for the rest of ever as well. Something might be timely and in the moment, like a comment or a joke that you might say within a small group of six friends with nobody else listening, might not necessarily be the same thing that you publish online that you want to be around for the rest of time.

Melissa Agnes: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Jones: Okay. So, let’s come back to the word “crisis”. What do we do to be more crisis ready? What are theses crisis ready rules that you keep referring to? Like, if I’m to see them listed out or pointed out, what is the steps that I think through if me, personally, or in business wants to see myself as being more crisis ready?

Melissa Agnes: So, I wouldn’t refer to the crisis ready rules, but I’d refer to the crisis ready model.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: A couple steps that can be taken now no matter the size or type of the organization is understanding defining the issue versus crisis for your organization. What I love about the Oscars scenario is that it’s the same scenario at the same moment, and it’s apples with apples, but it’s an issue for one organization and it’s potential crisis for the other.

So, what does that look like for your organization? And then when you have that, what are your most likely high-impact issues, and most likely high-impact crises, that pertain to your organization? Or to your brand, your … we were talking earlier about as individuals as it pertains.

From there, look at who matters most to your business. So, who are your stakeholders? What is your consolidated list? I’ve never actually come across an organization prior to working with them, that had a consolidated list of each one of their stakeholder groups in some form. Everybody knows who they own the relationships with, but leadership doesn’t seem to have this consolidated list of what that looks like. If you have that consolidated list, so all of your stakeholder groups, from employees to members and board members to volunteers to customers, vendors, etc. etc., then you can take that and you can compare it and contrast it with your list of high-risk scenarios, and say, “In scenario one, what would employees expect of us? How can we put our team in a position to meet those expectations now, so that we have a leg up if and when that high-risk scenario were to occur.” In that same scenario, what would customers expect of us? Same questions apply.

What would be their most pertinent concerns? What would be the emotional impact on them? What are the questions that matter to them that we can anticipate them asking us? And how can we be prepared to meet those expectations and to answer those questions right from the get-go?

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: As much as possible.

Phil Jones: So, that related to just about everybody, right, is this definition of issue versus crisis. It’s to have a clarity over the most likely high-impact issues or crises, and then to consider who matters most, I guess, is relatable to just about everybody.

When something goes wrong though, I think I read about in your book was this importance of timely and well crafted messages.

Melissa Agnes: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Jones: And I guess sometimes when things go wrong that we can feel ourself needing to respond almost in the moment, straight away. Or not knowing how to respond, and putting the thing off, and too much time passes and the thing catches momentum and runs out of control.
How do we navigate that kind of thing? What are some of the steps to put into place? Or what are some of the pieces of advice or rules or advice that you would just give towards me or anybody else, that should we be needing to communicate following a crisis or an issue?

Melissa Agnes: There’s a couple things. The more you understand those high-risk scenarios, the more you can look at, individually, what are the nuances of communication strategy? That gives you the biggest advantage; having the high-risk scenarios. From there, a good rule of thumb is to communicate, or be in a position to communicate, within 15 to 60 minutes from the time the indecent has an online presence. Because as soon as it has an online presence, that’s when things kind of begin to spiral.

So that’s a good rule of thumb if you’re playing catch-up, right. If you don’t have that chance to look at it correctly and say, “Can we get ahead of this?” Before it comes out.
And then, one of the big questions that I get asked all the time is, “How can you possibly communicate within that short timeframe when you don’t have all of the answers?” And one of the things to realize is that people don’t expect you to have all of the answers. People expect you to be aware, they expect you to keep them informed, they expect you to care and to show through both communications and your actions that it matters to you, that you’re putting people first, and what you’re doing. There’s an emphasis there because it used to be that we could come out and say, “We’re working with the authorities.” For example, and turn around and walk back.
That’s not enough anymore. People wanna know you’re working with the authorities, what are you working on, what are the main questions that you know they’re gonna be asking that you can answer now, and if you don’t have those answers now, at least let them know that you know those questions are important to them, and that you’re working on getting the answers. You have to give them a little bit more today because people demand it; they expect it. And if you don’t give it, somebody else will. And then that’s when you start to lose control of the narrative.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, even if you’re sharing what you don’t know and when you’ll next be back in contact, or even if you’re saying, “I understand that this is a question that’s on your mind, this is a question that’s on your mind, this is a question on your mind, and we are working to secure those answers.” Those things might just do enough to stop fuel on a fire.

Melissa Agnes: Well, absolutely. And they let people know … I mean, it’s people first. Right. So, people wanna know that it matters to you. They wanna know that you are aware, they wanna know that it matters to you, they wanna know what you’re doing, and when they’re gonna learn more. So, if you give them sincere answers that are not led by your legal department, then you’re going to help mitigate the risk of legal liability on that kind of front.

You’re also gonna get ahead. You’re gonna show them, prove to them , that it matters and you’re putting them first, and that they can trust you to come back with more information when it’s available and trust that you’re doing the right thing. All of this, too, goes to what you do to build those relationships beforehand, because the stronger our relationships with our stakeholders before crises, the more we gain the benefit of the doubt when a crisis strikes.

Phil Jones: Okay. So, this is kinda coming around to give us an understanding that in the event of crisis, the thing that people are looking for more than anything is trust. Whether it’s trust in communication, trust in a situation, trust in somebody else to lead them in what to do. But some form of somebody else has got this, or somebody else is in control, or there is some organizational … some control over this.

Melissa Agnes: Yeah. Trust doesn’t come from in your crisis, trust is built up over time. So, you wanna have that bank of stakeholder trust before crisis strikes. When crisis strikes, your actions and commitments and communications will either increase that trust or depreciate it.

Phil Jones: Okay. Now I’m learning here the importance of being crisis ready. It makes a huge amount of sense for a big business or a big brand when there is risk to … They might have more to lose, or certain what it could be perceived to be. When you’re a small business, this sounds like a lot of work. It sounds like a lot of work ahead of time, it sounds like a lot of effort and energy put into something that we hope is never gonna pay back; that we hope we’re never gonna need. Why is it worth putting the effort into becoming crisis ready?

Melissa Agnes: Becoming crisis ready … so I just published a video recently that talks about societal trends that we’re seeing now. So, things like the “MeToo” movement, and racial discrimination. These are societal issues that our society or culture has decided this is societal crisis and we’re gonna stand up and we’re gonna manage that collectively.

This is … When we look at this form a societal perspective, we’re gonna say, “Great”. Why they’re personally for it or against it with responses whatever the case may be. From a business perspective, so I’ll bring this full spectrum back to your question, is those things actually impact business, or present risk to organizations if we aren’t aligned with them, if we pull something ridiculous like Tony Robbins recently did, where his ignorant comments on the “MeToo” movement were just completely … ignorant is a good word. And that went viral. That impacts his reputation especially from his brand perspective. That’s a single brand; that’s not a mega united or huge organization.

My point being, if we understand the risk now, we can take measures to mitigate the risk from happening, but we can also find ways to use that to our advantage; to build that trust with stakeholders. So, being crisis ready, doing the work, understanding the high-risk scenarios, understanding issue versus crisis, understanding what matters to our stakeholders and how we’re connected to them on an emotional, value based position, then we can find opportunities every day that not just prevent crisis from happening, but actually built trust and credibility within our industry, with our stakeholders, within our business, within our culture internally. That benefits business far greater than this whole act of crisis management. Does that make sense?

Phil Jones: I think so. I think I got it. What do you hate that people misinterpret when they think about your role as being a crisis expert? Or the term of crisis management? Why do people get it wrong?

Melissa Agnes: When do people get it wrong? Or what do I dislike?

Phil Jones: Both.

Melissa Agnes: Couple things I dislike. I don’t like being referred to as PR, because PR is one piece of the puzzle just like business business continuity is one piece of the puzzle, I do strategy over overarching crisis preparedness. I really dislike that people use the term social media crisis, because there’s no such thing.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Melissa Agnes: Reason that I dislike it is that if we look at a crisis and call it a social media crisis, we are missing a huge, huge opportunity to get to the root cause of the incident and actually strengthen the culture and the brand and relationships and fix the actual issue. Social media is a communications platform or mechanism. It is a factor of every single crisis, whether it originates online or offline, so therefore there is no such things as a social media crisis. Yeah, those are two things that bug me.

Phil Jones: Okay. Sounds good. How do people find out more about you? I mean, we’ve learned a lot about being crisis ready, I know you wrote a killer book; in fact it’s on my coffee table over there. I was flicking through it again earlier. It’s a beautiful book. I don’t know how you’d manage to take such a complex subject and pack it down into such a small set of terms.
But how do people find out more about you? They wanna understand how they can become more crisis ready; they want to learn how they can build a crisis ready culture. Where do they go? Where do we point them?

Melissa Agnes: Firstly, thank you for saying that about my book. MelissaAgness.com. Simplest place to go.

Phil Jones: Okay. And what will they find when they get there? What kind of stuff you got for them?

Melissa Agnes: Everything. I’ve got videos, I’ve got blogs, I’ve got podcasts, I’ve got a link to the book on Amazon, I’ve got content information. Somebody actually recently came to me, a client, and said, “I have clients who wanna get in touch with you, but don’t think that they can because you’re busy.” I am approachable. So, there’s contact information there. Yeah. MelissaAgnes.com.

Phil Jones: Awesome. Now there’s a question I ask all of my guests on “Words With Friends”. And the beautiful thing is most people don’t know this question is coming, so let me throw this one on you and see where it takes you.
I wanna know, what’s your favorite word and why?

Melissa Agnes: My favorite word is “why”.

Phil Jones: Oh really. And why is your favorite word “why”?

Melissa Agnes: Because it leads to so much.

Phil Jones: You’re not gonna give us-

Melissa Agnes: Knowledge and understanding and … I ask questions. I love to ask questions. I love to understand things, and that’s partly why I’m so good at what I do. So, my favorite word is “why”.

Phil Jones: Love that. Love that. Melissa Agnes, thank you for your time on “Words With Friends”. It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and the word crisis. It’s been nice to share one of my great friends with a handful of other people listening in. Thank you, thank you, for joining us.

Melissa Agnes: Thanks for having me.

Season 1

Season 2

Your host:
Phil M Jones

Phil M Jones has made it his life’s work to demystify the sales process, reframe what it means to “sell,” and help his audiences to learn new skills that empower confdence, overcome fears and instantaneously impact their results.