The 10 Most Interesting Crises So Far in 2017 – and What We've Learned


“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” was the famous 2008 observation of Rahm Emanuel, then Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama.

In which case 2017 is providing rich pickings.

Technology, generational shifts and widespread cultural/political/social upheaval has created a golden age of crisis.

Let’s take a look at the top ten corporate and brand crises of the first half of the year and what lessons they hold for the rest of us.

  1. United Airlines & Dr David Dao – social media and smartphone technology creates a fast-moving story even on a Sunday. If your crisis response is slow, analog and tone deaf, you will never EVER recover the ground you lose in those first few hours.
  2. Uber & Management culture – a gap between people’s love of a service and the lack of trust they have for the corporation behind that service, can only last so long. Eventually the corporation’s reputation will fall so far that it affects users’ perception of the service. Address any reputation gaps quickly!
  3. British Airways & IT collapse – a toxic combination of the apparent lack of any IT back-up systems and utterly confusing messaging and communication is a complete disaster – which is why any decent crisis plan covers both responses in detail.
  4. Pepsi & Kendall Jenner video – any brand that attempts to ‘own’ social movements or issues that it did not create or have deep relevance to the product, are likely to end in tears (see also Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ initiative in 2015).
  5. Price Waterhouse Coopers & Oscars’ envelope mishap – mistakes do happen whenever people are involved and often in the most public way. A sincere apology and change of personnel are old school but still effective when no greater malice is present.
  6. Fyre Festival & Everything about it – Influencers’ paid endorsement is not worth much. The point about influence is that it is supposed to be honest advocacy for a brand, service or idea from people who endorse it personally. The difference will become increasingly visible as consumers get more savvy about the amounts of money being spent on ‘influencers’.
  7. Nordstrom & Presidential tweet – doing nothing (or, at least, very little) is still a tactic which allows a story to die a natural death, superseded by more weighty topics, and leaving no mark on the brand.
  8. Adidas & Boston marathon – words do matter. Social media makes mass communication really easy – and sometimes too quick. Thoughtful review of the choice of words is still important.
  9. Delta & Atlanta thunderstorms – people do understand the impact of extreme weather and other natural catastrophes. But nowadays the truth will out, companies cannot hide it.  If the problems continue because pilots and crews are subject to an antiquated and failed IT system, you will be held accountable.
  10. Chipotle & Data breach – Life is not always fair! You are just seeing the first signs of life in the business after an e-Coli scandal a year previously, then you get hacked. Rebuilding trust after a crisis is a long-term project.