Archive for September, 2010

What is a Crisis?

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Professional Insight
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“We’re in the middle of a crisis situation and I don’t have time to talk.”

Defining can crisis is difficult because a crisis varies for every person, company and industry. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a crisis as an “unstable or crucial time… especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.” This definition does a nice job of calling out some key elements – instability, timing and undesirable outcomes – but it is broad. I left this definition broad because rarely do two companies, organizations or people undergo they exact same set of circumstances.

For a small business a crisis might mean their website is out of commission for a few days, for a Fortune 500 company this could be an international product recall lasting several months, or for a parent this could be losing their child 4-year-old at the hotel arcade in Disney World.* The first step for each of these situations is to determine whether or not you have a crisis.


I don’t have all the answers on how to handle a crisis but I’ve had an opportunity to work on 8-9 different situations** ranging in severity and duration. As a research savvy guy, I’m normally pulled in during the first step, analyzing and understanding the landscape. Even if you have a crisis communications plan, which hopefully you do, you need to fully grasp the situation before you tweak your action plan or issue a public statement:

  • How many people will this situation affect?
  • What is currently being said or asked by our shareholders (employees, customers / product users, brand advocates, competitors, the media, etc.)?
  • How have similar situations been handled in the past?
  • What is the worst possible outcome of this scenario?

Armed with these answers, it’s possible to determine the scope of your situation, the best message to communicate to your shareholders and the channels you use to share information. These answers also allow you to take a step back, look at the whole picture and develop an informed strategy.

This topic is surrounded by shades of gray and as my friend Crister points out in the comments section, each industry has a different understanding of what constitutes a crisis. I’m hoping to spend more time in the future writing about crisis situations, how to handle them and how various industries define a crisis differently. Let me know if you have specific topics you would like me to explore or if you would like to share some of the lessons you’ve learned from dealing with a crisis.



* This happened to me during a trip to Disney World when I was four. Papa Piehl told me he was walking less than 10 feet away to grab a cup of coffee but I wasn’t exactly listening. Eventually, a hotel employee found me wondering around the hotel restaurant trying to find Mickey and Pluto. After this my parents made me wear an ID bracelet during every family vacation until I was in third grade.

** The majority of the crisis situations I’ve worked on are confidential and I will never disclose or allude to who the client is. My clients trust and respect is of the utmost importance. Moving forward, I will do my best to share with you the processes I’ve learned that can be applied to other clients and businesses.

Smiles are contagious! They have the ability to transform a bad day into a tolerable day, they’re free to give out and they’re easy to give away. Plus, when you see the right person smile, it has the power to make you share a smile with someone else.

A couple weeks ago, I said the thing that makes me happy is celebrating and supporting my friends. So now it’s time to focus on what makes other people happy. Surprising a woman with flowers or a cup of coffee to a co-worker will almost always deliver a smile, but the cost of buying coffee and flowers can add up very quickly (trust me, I know).  Which is why understanding a co-worker or friend well enough to make them smile on a consistent basis is so valuable.

Do you know someone that can make you smile every time you see them?

If not, let me introduce you to Amit Patel. While it’s commonly believed that making someone smile is an art*, Amit has it down to a science.

Dr. Amit Patel (Specialty: Happiness)

Amit is the subject of this edition of “What makes You Happy?” because he radiates happiness from the moment you meet him. Monday through Friday he’s the guy walking through the hallways of Weber Shandwick with a giant smile on his face, a snap in his step and a story to tell from the weekend. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern or a senior vice president, he’s loves to swap recipes, discuss NCAA sports (especially Purdue sports) and learn a little bit about your weekend.

Outside the office, he continues to bring energy and enthusiasm to all of the activities he does. My friends jokingly refer to my apartment as “Casa de Piehl” because people are frequently crash on my couch, but the number of guests Amit hosts in a weekend always trumps what I host in a month. His generosity extends beyond his willingness to host friends from out of town and enters daily life through his ability to be inclusive with a “the more the merrier” attitude.

Despite the fact that his accounting background places him in front of a computer and spreadsheets all day, he is a master chef and deserts are his specialty. No worries if you don’t have a sweet tooth, Amit is also perfecting a laundry list of Indian dishes.

Amit isn’t a real doctor but we call him Dr. Patel in good spirit because like a real doctor, he has a gift that helps others. For those of you looking to make more people smile, here’s a prescription to be more like Amit:

1) Smile every day and go out of your way to say hi in the morning.

2) Actively listen to what you’re friends are saying (Even if it’s in a cab at 3am on a Saturday night / Sunday morning).

3) Think about your dream job and everyday try to make it a reality.

4) Be your own man (or woman) and do the activities that make you happy. You’ll be more inclined to make other people smile, if you’re already smiling.

5) Look for reasons to celebrate.

6) Be inclusive.

*I have no scientific data to support the claim that making someone smile is an art. 🙂

Smiling Child Photo Source: Flickr

My favorite thing about living in Chicago is a food. Not the Chicago style hot dogs and deep dish pizza the city is known for, I’m referring to the array of options available at a moment’s notice.

For a brief time last year, I developed a crush on a “foodie” and I started to take an interest in the city’s restaurant scene so we would have more to discuss. Time Out Chicago, Chicago Magazine and metromix Chicago instantly became my guides to dinning.

The restaurant reviews couldn’t come fast enough and chatting with friends about places to try or what might be the next big trend became one of my favorite topics on conversation. So much that a co-worker started referring to me as “The Concierge.”

My reading quickly transitioned from being about the girl to being about my passion for new experiences. In the May 2009 issue of Chicago Magazine, the magazine ‘s deputy dining editor and humor columnist Jeff Ruby wrote about his transition from loving the taco salad at Chi-Chi’s to becoming a food critic. This article inspired me to start finding new opportunities to develop my palate and think more like Tom Colicchio and the other judges on Top Chef.

Recently, I had an opportunity to be a food critic and it was more challenging than I expected. Sunda, one of the best Asian restaurants in Chicago, invented 20 of their social media supporters, including myself, to review their current menu and test several new dishes during a private brunch.

Sunda is know for it’s ability to wow diners with contemporary interpretations of traditional Southeast Asian dishes and it did just that. The dishes are shared in a family style setting and after tasting 13 different options, everyone in our group left satisfied by both the food and the experience.

Spinach and Mushroom Egg White Omelet

Some dishes were an instant hit like the spinach and mushroom omelet above, while others need a few more tweaks before we can declare it a grand slam. The toughest thing for me was knowing exactly what flavors I should be tasting. I can easily tell you whether or not I like a dish but recognizing the hidden flavors requires more attention than I initially thought.

Brown Rice Chirashi

With the help of my fellow diners – Chris, Brenda, Tatiana, Mary Kay and Jeanelle – and Sunda’s general manager Aeron Lancero, I was able to identify the favors popping in my mouth. In addition to the flavors that delighted our taste buds, the presentation was superb. The chirashi, pictured above, is a new dish we tested and my picture doesn’t do it justice. According to my limited Google research, chirashi means scattered sushi, which explains why the fish is scattered throughout the bowl. For guests looking to take a break from egg based breakfast foods,  this dish is the way to go.

Spam Musubi and Ramen

The title of “Most Unique Dish” belongs to the Spam Musubi and Ramen. The Spam Musubi is a popular Hawaiian dish similar to sushi, except it’s larger and made with Spam. With so many other dishes on the menu, I can’t say I’ll have this again but it was worth trying once.

Aeron and me.

Aeron was an especially gracious and knowledgeable host. Throughout the meal he made sure we had everything we needed and found a balance between providing helpful information and not looking over our shoulders while we discussed the dishes. I hope to have more experiences with Aeron in the future.

The restaurant scene in Chicago a constantly evolving. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the changing store fronts and fall into a pattern of visiting the same place over and over. But with restaurants like Sunda re-evaluating and tweaking their menu on a constant basis, Chicago’s culinary scene will continue to thrive.


If you could try any job for a day, what would it be?