A crisis can hit an enterprise at any moment. When one does, the corporate communications team must be ready to intervene and control the narrative. Today, 93 percent of communications professionals see crisis management as a key responsibility of their role, yet many enterprises do not know how to react when a major issue shakes the organization. Time is the biggest enemy in any crisis, so teams have to react swiftly and decisively. Fortunately, communications professionals can draw some key learnings on how to deal with a crisis from the way fighter pilots go into battle.

John Boyd was a renowned fighter pilot who made a major contribution to modern crisis management. During his years as a fighter pilot, Boyd defined a process for decision making in fast-paced environments. Specifically, Boyd noticed that there was a repeatable pattern to the way an effective fighter pilot collects and acts upon information.ooda-loop

Over the years Boyd articulated his learnings into a repeatable process that shows people and organizations how to compete and win in any high-change environment. He coined this process “Observe, Orient, Decide and Act” (OODA) — AKA the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle. In a world defined by big data and extensive media intelligence, we can leverage this powerful framework in powerful ways to guide our activities during the crisis response phase.

OBSERVE and understand what’s happening

During the planning phase, all crisis management teams should create a foundation for aggregating media intelligence data, reports and workflows. When observing a crisis through the unique crisis communications lens, the scope and severity can easily be gauged.

Fighter pilots collect specific information about the status of other airplanes — both friend and foe. In the same way, communications professionals observe information about the competitive environment and the current status of their own company. For example, what are the keywords or hashtags being used across the media spectrum to describe the crisis? Is the sentiment positive or neutral?

ORIENT and put your crisis into context

This important step puts a crisis into what Boyd called “situational awareness.” As a fighter pilot, situational awareness creates visual scenarios about the location of enemy planes, their potential threat, and the opportunity to strike back. With this context, organizations can better understand how to respond across a range of specific data points and variables.

For example, enterprises can know what their core influencers — both supporters and detractors are doing. Are the influencers adding fuel to the crisis and can you change their opinion? In the same way, geotag your crisis to understand how a situation is resonates across specific regions.  Where are the hotbeds of conversation concentrated?  Are there are different ways at targeting the crisis regionally?

Finally, understand the scope of the crisis in the context of the entire media spectrum. Did the story start small through a few social media tweets and then gain steam when picked up by the national media? Or did the story start through traditional media and then spread socially?

By understanding the anatomy of how a crisis is syndicated across the media spectrum, communications professionals can ask for a retraction, correction or plan to address the issue through another vehicle.

Explore your options through media intelligence and DECIDE

This phase of the process involves creating plans and specific activities and anticipating what may happen. By utilizing media intelligence data, organizations can create several “what if” scenarios to optimize the outcome to a particular crisis. For example, enterprises can leverage historical data to research and accentuate bright spots in a crisis. Buried within the negative noise of your crisis, what are the small glimmers of positive sentiment? How are your supporters coming to your defense? What are some positive stories that you can elevate to blunt the negativity of the crisis?

Take Action and ACT

The fourth and final step is to take action. At this point, you’ve considered all of your options and developed a solid plan. Seen as actions are based upon solid media intelligence and data, the prognosis for success is optimized. Finally, the results from the action portion of the OODA-Loop cycle are captured in the observe step process loops-back to the beginning again.

Corporate communications departments need to implement a crisis plan as soon as the issue takes hold to mitigate the worst of the damage. An OODA-Loop approach lets crisis teams tame the chaos associated with a crisis by acting in a methodical manner that eliminates the majority of the variables.

If you would like to learn more about how a data-centric approach to crises can improve your crisis communications plan, download our eBookTen Ways that Big Data Will Modernize Your Crisis Communications Plan