How to Stage a Crisis Comeback: 3 Crisis Lessons From the Cincinnati Bengals!

The Cincinnati Bengals found themselves in a crisis during this week’s AFC Championship playoffs. They were down 18 points against the Kansas City Chiefs and their dreams of going to the Super Bowl were fading. Yet the team persevered! They managed to scratch out a stunning victory with 25-year-old quarterback, Joe Burrow, leading the way in overtime. The Bengal’s amazing comeback provides solid crisis lessons for crisis leaders and teams. Even when your crisis team gets off on the wrong foot you can persevere with the right mindset. You can turn things around and here are several things to help.

1. Change the Crisis Momentum

The Bengals knew they had to change the momentum of the game if they were going to win! When things are not going well in a crisis you must change what you are doing. I have witnessed crisis teams get so focused on what is going wrong that they get stuck in their thinking. It is a smart move to have some crisis communication team members step back from the chaos to gain perspective – physically move them away from the action for a time. It is useful to assess the developing major symbols (visual and emotional) of the crisis. Then, allow your team to take action that will either neutralize or replace those symbols in the long term. It is crucial to take actions that will change the momentum of a crisis in the first 48 hours while there is still time to shape public perceptions.

“It is a smart move to let some crisis communication team members step back from the chaos to gain perspective and assess the developing crisis symbols.”

– Benchmark Communications

Crisis Lessons: Changing Momentum

PepsiCo is remembered for changing the momentum when a syringe was allegedly found in a can of Diet Pepsi. They knew press conferences and promises of an investigation were not enough to save their product. So they shot four videos to tell their story. PepsiCo released the videos to show the public how impossible it was to insert a syringe into a can on the production line. The momentum completely turned in their favor and provides many crisis lessons!

2. The Key to Crisis Success: Practice!

Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor was asked how his team managed to overcome and win the AFC Championship, “We believed in ourselves even when others didn’t!” Likewise, great things can be achieved when leaders believe in their crisis teams and set them up for success. The Bengals didn’t get to the Super Bowl without lots of practice and neither do successful crisis teams; they invest in solid crisis plans and continually test those plans with training and drills. In turn, they create strong beliefs about their capabilities. 

3. Have a Deep Crisis Talent Bench

The Bengals lost a key player in the first quarter of the playoff game with the Chiefs and that was a mental setback for the team. Thankfully, they had two other talented tight ends prepared to step up and fill the void. Crisis teams must also have plenty of experienced people who can step up during an incident. This is sometimes more challenging for small to medium sized organizations. This is why companies need to cross-train as many people as possible. In turn, you get talent that can serve in a variety of roles during a crisis response.

Crisis Lessons: Case Studies

There are many classic case studies that prove a company can overcome a less than stellar start in their crisis response. The following are perhaps the most famous crisis lessons touted by prominent business schools. Notice that all three partnered with key, third-party groups and contemplate why this is also crucial to a successful crisis response.

  1. Seven people died after a killer laced Tylenol capsules with a deadly poison. Johnson & Johnson did something no other company fathomed at that time in history! The company pulled 31 million bottles of Tylenol off the shelves. The company also partnered with Chicago Police and offered a large reward for the killer.
  2. A syringe was allegedly discovered in a can of Diet Pepsi and the company knew their product could take a major hit if not their entire brand! So the PepsiCo crisis communications team huddled and thought outside of the box. They immediately started shooting videos to show their production line. The videos clearly showed how impossible it was for a syringe to make its way into a can. They also sought and gained robust support from the FDA.
  3. A major pipeline explosion rocked Edison, New Jersey and left about more than 1500 people homeless in the middle of winter. Panhandle Eastern knew the investigation would take time, so they put much of their focus on helping displaced families recover. Not only did their crisis management team gain favorable media support – they turned a very hostile mayor into an ally. The company also quickly gained the support of the regulatory agencies such as the DOT’s Office of Pipeline Safety. 

Improve Your Crisis Communication Preparedness!

If your organization is seeking to improve its crisis preparedness or putting effective crisis and media training into place – we can help! We offer actionable and relevant consulting, training and coaching for leaders and teams. CONTACT US to explore your business goals and options. Take care and be safe!