Would a crisis by any other name make you click?

The term 'crisis' has almost doubled since the end of the Second World War. But does that mean we're actually living through more catastrophic times? Probably not, writes crisis expert Peter Roberts.

Being someone who supports organisations in terms of their respective reputations, I’m acutely aware that I have a rather slavish relationship with crises.

To clarify, it’s in my professional interest to keep abreast of business mishaps, cynical misdeeds and product failings the world over.

I gauge the context and privately evaluate the response. I tell you this as I feel I’m moderately qualified to say that crisis is getting too big.

That last point needs some explanation. Crisis, as a concept, has grown exponentially in recent years. For a simple illustration, check out the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which shows use of the term has virtually doubled since the end of the Second World War.

The irony that crisis was less talked during the turbulence of D-Day and the Third Reich than it is today can’t be lost on us.

To be clear, crises sadly happen, but not at the rate at which the crisis circus – namely the media, insurance firms and some aspects of the public relations industry would let us believe. Crisis has been industrialised as it can be inordinately profitable for those who purport to have the credentials to help.

Crisis – as is the case with terrorism – is increasingly being applied with indiscriminate flair to a range of events and situations.

In recent weeks, we’ve had the media refer to the crisis in Syria, the crisis afflicting German football, the Thai cave crisis and crisis talks in regards to the NEG – that’s the National Energy Guarantee to the uninitiated.

My concern with the broad-brush approach primarily relates to the inherent associations with the word crisis. Our understanding of the world is shaped by the way the world is labelled.

We perceive crisis to be big, calamitous events, and subsequently, we expect big repercussions if they are not managed effectively, such as the loss of senior people and a plummeting share price.

It’s a short step indeed from ‘crisis’ to that other favourite media omen, ‘embattled’. Crises call for accountability.

The English language is fantastically accommodating in its breadth, and to that end, to read about the Thai Cave Accident, or the Plight of the Thai Cave Boys would have been as accurate a reading of the situation as we had, but I guess they’re not as exciting, nor are they as exacting in their demands if things go wrong.

Peter Roberts is the MD of the Crisis Reputation Practice.


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