Crisis Communications = Mental Fatigue


By Brian Chandler, Commonwealth PR

I remember this client’s crisis like it was yesterday.

We were in the middle of a meeting at their office when the CEO was immediately ushered out of the room with no explanation. A few minutes later, I was also summoned out of the room, leaving everyone confused and unsure whether to continue the meeting or call it quits.

What happened next involved me setting up shop in someone else’s office, using their computer, paper and even some supplies, to handle a crisis situation that involved a death. In respect for the family and my client, I will refrain from mentioning their names.

You should know that this wasn’t my first crisis. In fact, throughout two decades in public relations I have helped clients with at least a dozen or so major crises that involved everything from layoffs, to accidents, and even death.

What I recall the most about this recent crisis was the mental fatigue experienced. I remember driving home that evening and thinking: they don’t teach you how to deal with the mental side of this in school.

To explain, there’s fatigue one might experience if they work a physically demanding job, but there is also the feeling that your mind is simply exhausted from thinking, talking, planning, strategizing, and writing, as quickly as possible, all in regards to someone’s death.

If you dealt with a crisis, you know that you have to be quick, thorough and smart. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I have the experience to know what steps to take and how to counsel clients through these tough situations. But that still doesn’t mean that I wasn’t mentally exhausted at the end of the day.

Almost a year later, I thought I would reflect on this situation and use it as an opportunity to share with others how to be mentally fit and ready for your next crisis.

Tip #1: Know Your Stuff

If you’re dealing with your first crisis, you’re going to have a rough time. All the book smarts in the world won’t prepare you for what’s to come. However, if you have spent some time preparing (develop a crisis plan) and create a list of steps to take, you’ll be better off.

Tip #2: Work With A Team

Don’t ever go at a crisis alone without some form of back-up checking what you are writing or producing, providing input on counsel and helping you through the tough experiences. At Commonwealth Public Relations, we have a team of industry veterans who each have all dealt with some type of client crisis in the past. Our team as a whole is an important asset when it comes to these situations.

Tip #3: Hydrate and Eat

It’s easy to avoid eating and drinking while you are in the heat of a crisis situation, but you must remember to take care of yourself. If you become dehydrated, you won’t be able to think as clearly as you should. The same goes with if your stomach is growling. You don’t have to take a one-hour lunch break, but ask someone to bring you a meal so you can continue to work. This is something they never said in Crisis Communications 101, but it makes a difference.

Tip #4: Separate Yourself From Those Who Hurt

This is one of the hardest things to do in a crisis situation. When you hear your client’s employees crying and their family members crying and see the look on their faces, mentally it takes a lot out of you. I’m not saying to not be compassionate, but you are there to guide the client through what steps should and shouldn’t be taken.  These steps are imperative to ensure that future crises don’t happen or that the entire business isn’t lost. It is definitely a tough situation to be in, but you have to separate yourself as a counselor.

Tip #5: Rest

When you get home at night, take a long, hot shower and just relax to the best of your ability. Know that tomorrow will bring another set of challenges for this client and their situation, but for now, you are going to take some time for yourself to de-stress and separate yourself for a short time.

Again, all crisis situations are difficult and come with their own problems and challenges. Chances are you’ll know what strategies and tactics to implement, but when it comes to preparing yourself for the mental exhaustion, you will hopefully now be ready for that next call.




One Comment

Dawn S

Thanks Brian! Oh yes, this took me back–almost like it was yesterday–to a client’s last crisis. With your inspiration, I may add a new section to their crisis manual called “Crisis Team Care” with your tips on hydration, eating and sleeping. Maybe we’ll even add a page on restaurants that deliver healthy energy-producing meals 24/7. And a new rule: Limit your consumption of junk food during a crisis! Or will that just add to the stress? 😉


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