Lessons From SVB: If, When and How to Lean Into a Crisis News Cycle

Mission North recently analyzed the Silicon Valley Bank collapse chatter, including its parallels with financial market fluctuations, to better understand the window of opportunity for meaningfully participating in a crisis news cycle, and how to do it effectively. We found that bold action and communication within hours of a crisis breaking, not days, as well as an authentic connection with your business and key audiences helps pay dividends for reputation management.

Humans are inherently captivated by juicy stories; it’s part of our connective, social nature. We’re especially wired to be enthralled with the dramatic, such as epic failures, which launch the stickiest of viral memes, and underpin our pervasive cancel culture. Not surprisingly, the only thing more compelling to watch than a crisis of failure, is a brand or public figure that mishandles it. Double disasters are double the clickbait, and practically euphoric for audiences to behold. 

Case in point: In the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the CEO accelerated the bank’s inevitable implosion by telling depositors and shareholders not to panic. Naturally, that had the polar opposite effect. The subsequent run on the bank that followed made for a roller coaster ride of PR horrors, a shocking FDIC seizure, and a sigh-of-relief in the form of a declaration of depositor guarantees. On digital channels, the noise unleashed was rife with schadenfreude, though not the least bit comical for the many tech companies and startups impacted by the some $175 billion of deposits in account limbo.

In the days and weeks since we watched the SVB collapse unfold, our Insights and Analytics team leapt into action to begin unpacking public and media sentiment, to help us get an accurate read on exactly what was being said. Because had we trusted the madness of our own little slice of the internet, as any of you who work in tech, life sciences, or the startup world well remember, we would have believed that the world was on fire. But it wasn’t.

Our social listening analysis showed that in the minds of the broad public, the spike in public interest and chaos only lasted a mere 24 hours.

Our analysis showed a mega spike of traction shortly after SVB’s press release hit mainstream, and then, just as quickly, experienced a quickly cascading die-off, with just one slight uptick when SVB was acquired by First Citizens Bank.

In traditional measured media, the story had a similarly rapid peak and fall but with a more prolonged tail. 

The chatter on this front continued to spin the anxiety of the echo-chamber of tech and biotech execs. But this aspect of the cycle extended for only about a week. For us here at Mission North, that was about on par with the “everything’s on fire” sensation we were navigating with clients. But again, as the data suggested, by this point the public was mostly over it.

The stock market told a similar story

When we took a look at the NASDAQ composite for the same window, we saw much the same: a significant dip occurred at about the peak of the mayhem, and passed faster than the latest TikTok trend. This pattern more closely aligned to media mentions versus social chatter, meaning overall, we needed to simply ride the media storm until it died. Yesterday’s news, and away it went.

If, when and how to respond to a crisis.

Knowing this, at the height of this media sensation we provided counsel on how best to handle this type of crisis. Philosophically, we recommended that any communications be thoughtful, audience-centric, and appropriate given the circumstances – that is, not feeding the drama, not avoiding the truth, and owning what needs to be owned. Strategically, we’ll share with you what we shared with them. In times of crisis, it's key to remember three things:

  • If to respond: Not everything is about you. It is not best practice to provide commentary to the media or speculate on a rapidly evolving crisis unless you bring unique and specific expertise that will move the narrative forward by providing clarity and/or insight to audiences. This includes social media. In almost every situation, internal communications should be a company’s first and potentially only priority.
  • When to respond: The window of opportunity is incredibly short even when the echo chamber is incredibly loud. Companies that take authentic, meaningful and decisive action in the first hours – not days – of a crisis will reap the benefits of reputational first-in advantage. Everything else is just thoughts and prayers; too little and too late. This means communicators need to be empowered to move fast to capture the media cycle, or keep their cool and ride out the storm.
  • How to respond: Consider “does this message have the intended outcome?” The most high-impact and compelling content strategy is thinking about, and addressing just that. Controlling your narrative in both good times and bad – and all the ways your brand shows up in the world – means storytelling strategy needs to be en pointe, it needs to have a deep degree of introspection and self-awareness, and most of all, it needs to be devoid of bulls**t. Because audiences can sniff out the faintest whiff of nonsense in PR spin – authenticity and accountability is the most basic thing we must honor for our audiences.
<split-lines>"The window of opportunity is incredibly short even when the echo chamber is incredibly loud."<split-lines>

Companies that managed to dominate sidelong conversations without being exploitative during the crisis held an upper advantage because they moved through the above process at hyper-speed, as you can see here, here, and here. Power players that emerge in most crisis comms scenarios typically do the same – adding empathetic, calm, and thoughtful commentary that lends valuable perspective and gravitas to the situation at hand. What we know to be true is that these reputational upticks become positive sentiments that persist, even after the crisis itself wanes. Because in the hearts and minds of many, within just a day or so, that crisis is already yesterday’s news.

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