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Decoding Strategic Communications in Crisis

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

On occasion, when we need to hold the attention of our rambunctious children at the dinner table, my husband will tell them a story. It’s often a choose-your-own-adventure story where Robert and Aiden decide to navigate a made-up world as the hero or the villain.

One night, after many threats to duct tape the kids into their chairs until every pea, every grain of rice, and every cornbread crumb made it into their bellies, my husband started a new story. It went something like this…

It’s dusk in a post-apocalyptic world. We’ve just returned home after an exhausting and unsuccessful hunt for supplies. As the sun dips below the horizon, our view out of one window that has yet to be boarded up shows a horde of zombies approaching -- 40, maybe more. We’re tired, hungry, and low on supplies.
What do we do? Do we try to board up the remaining vulnerable parts of our home, then hunker down and hide? Do we run out and serve those zombie fools? Or, do we retreat into the night to find a safer haven?

Robert and Aiden stopped picking at each other and sat up straight, eyes lit and ready for the challenge.

What supplies and weapons do we have?” Robert asks. “Are we ready to battle?”

Aiden jumps in and asks, “What kind of zombies are on their way? Are they walkers, or do they run like the ones from ‘The Last of Us’?”

I smiled and offered up high fives, as I always do before I launch into a teachable moment speech.

“Determining your approach requires asking the right questions, and you’re on the right track,” I said.


In life, and in business, every person and every organization will inevitably find themselves at an inflection point. It's that critical moment where you need to make a choice, pivot, or embrace a new opportunity.

Perhaps you’re in a crisis, an event where your survival is at stake. Or maybe it's a new opportunity that could reshape your brand or deepen relationships with important people in your network. Regardless of the circumstance, your ability to navigate, minimize risks, or maximize opportunities hinges on your capacity to stay laser-focused on the situation and remain curious about the options.


As Aiden rightfully understood, our ability to survive the impending threat hinged on our grasp of the chaos that was to ensue. Similarly, in strategic communications, making good choices begins with understanding the battlefield.

Eyes on the Horizon. Even in an urgent crisis situation when the pressure to act may be high, it is critical to resist the urge to rush into action. Take the time to step back, peer through the fog and discern what may lie ahead. Identify the forces at play and the catalysts of change. Are there emerging trends, lurking opportunities, or menacing risks that could reshape your fate?

Map The Course. Just as survivors document their journey on frayed paper scraps or in scribbles across the wall, you too should document the lay of the land. A succinct summary of your findings can serve as a guiding star for you and your team and help keep your efforts focused on what truly matters.


Once you know what you’re up against or what opportunities lay ahead, it’s time to take stock of the tools, resources and valuable gear that sits in your arsenal. Robert initially asked about our weaponry. My question to you: what skills, assets, or expertise can you wield for victory?

The Survival SWOT. You may be thinking: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Instead, let’s consider Survival Weapons and Outstanding Talents. Identify your strengths - those exceptional skills, resources, and assets that set you apart - and acknowledge your weaknesses, the chinks in your armor that could expose vulnerabilities.

Patch the Cracks. Recognizing where you are weak, amid what makes you strong can serve as a strategic advantage. The shelter from my husband’s adventure story required reinforcement. So too might your efforts. Wooden planks nailed to windows and heavy furniture against the door may not be the right solutions, but training, collaboration or partnership could be.

Opportunities and Threats. The opportunities and threats of your circumstances should have become clear when you assessed your landscape. Now is the time to determine how you can harness those opportunities and circumvent the threats. It’s time to equip yourself with the knowledge and resources needed to thrive.


In (post apocalyptic) life, no one succeeds alone. Who is key to your survival? Maybe the audiences are customers or donors whose support you need to fulfill your mission. It could be policy-makers who shape the landscape you work in. Or maybe the audiences are partners and collaborators who can amplify your message or join forces with you. Knowing who you must notify, engage, influence or ask for help, and how you can reach them is an important piece of determining your strategy.

United Against the Saviors: In The Walking Dead, the Alexandria Safe-Zone, Hilltop Colony, the Kingdom, and Oceanside formed an alliance to confront their common enemy, Negan. Each community recognized that, while individually strong, their survival and success depended on collaboration. Just as these communities banded together to fight a relentless foe, your organization should consider alliances and partnerships as you develop your strategies.

Messaging Your Battle Cry: In any situation, a one-size-fits-all message won’t suffice. It is important to tailor messages to your audiences by acknowledging what matters most to them and using it to inspire action and allyship.


In an apocalypse, there's no room for uncertainty. Survival isn't just a hope; it's an unshakable belief, because there is no other option.

A Vision For Survival. What does success look like to you? What will have transpired? What will you have achieved? What new understanding will people have? These are the questions you must answer to craft a vision of success.

The Measurable Horizon. Success should be tangible. Survival is the benchmark of achievement in an apocalyptic world. It’s easy to measure. Either you win, or you don't. Your strategy should have measurable success metrics that tell you along the way if you’re on track or off track to meet your goals.

Forge Your Path Forward. In the end, it is the actions that you take that will define your success. Outline then implement the concrete steps you will take to turn your vision of success into reality using the insights you’ve gained from each question you’ve asked and answered.


When my husband’s story had ended, our fictional selves were all alive, learning, and growing in a new place with new allies.

I always tell Robert and Aiden that making good choices can pave the way toward success, and practicing that skill now will benefit them in the future.

I hope this was a good exercise for them, and I hope it was for you too.

Oh, and they eventually finished their dinner.


2 комментария

Carolyn Pinto Cellere
Carolyn Pinto Cellere
13 сент. 2023 г.

I read this twice: first through the lens of a professional conundrum, then with a personal conundrum in mind. The principles applied equally in both scenarios. The reminder to consider who we should be engaging/influencing particularly resonated. Thanks for the fresh metaphor - I will henceforth equate all obstacles in my life with killer zombies - and the fun read. Glad the kids finished their dinner despite the riveting discussion. ;)

Arron Neal
12 янв.
Ответ пользователю

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for reading!

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