Crisis Management: Learn from Others’ Failures

Edward Segal, CAE, contributed today’s post. He helps publishers and associations generate publicity about their events and activities.

If you’re like most people, you’d rather learn from the failures of others than have people learn from your mistakes.  That’s especially true when it comes to crisis management.

There are plenty of examples of how organizations have stumbled or simply fell flat on their face when they found themselves in the public spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  But there are some good examples to emulate, too.

Here’s a look at both the good and bad examples, along with my observations about the lessons to be learned from how these organizations reacted to and handled a crisis.


In the aftermath of news reports that Apple had intentionally slowed some older iPhones down in order to save battery life, the company admitted that it had done just that, but said it had taken those steps out of concern for its customers. After lawsuits were filed against the company, Apple apologized and offered discounted replacement batteries for those who have certain older iPhones.

Lesson: Don’t hide bad news. Be transparent.


After confirming allegations of sexual abuse against Charlie Rose at CBS and Matt Lauder at NBC, the two networks moved quickly to end their relationships with both men.

Lesson: Move quickly. After you verify the facts, move as fast as you can to deal with the problem.

United Airlines

A video went viral that showed a passenger on a United Airlines flight being taken from his seat and dragged bleeding down the aisle. The airline initially made flimsy excuses for what happened. They eventually apologized for the incident.

Lesson: A picture is worth a thousands words. We live in a world where anyone with a cell phone camera can be reporter with their own international TV network. When a crisis hits the fan, you cannot take your time to respond to the obvious, or apologize for your role in the crisis. 


Mark Zuckerberg claimed that there was no way that Facebook could have been used to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. He later backtracked and said Facebook had identified thousands of ads and postings that were designed to sway the election. He has now said that his mission for 2018 is to fix the wide range of issues facing the company, including foreign interference on the social media platform. 

Lesson: Look before you leap. It’s dangerous to speak up without first thoroughly investigating the situation. 


In the aftermath of a series of food safety-related problems at its restaurants,, Chipotle announced it would temporarily close all of its 2,000 restaurants and retrain its staff.

Lesson: Show and tell. Demonstrate to the world what you are doing to make things right. 


Pepsi produced a television ad that made light of the Black Lives Matter movement and other protests. The ad was roundly criticized and immediately taken off the air. 

Lesson: It’s never a laughing matter. Don’t trivialize or make fun of issues that are important to people.

By keeping these crisis management lessons in mind, you can help ensure that there will be no reason for others to learn from your mistakes. 

Edward Segal is a crisis management and communications expert, PR consultant, spokesperson, trainer and former CEO of two trade associations. Edward offers one-day crisis management workshops he can bring to your organization. Reach him through his website at

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