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Crisis trends

01 Jun, 2020 Issues and crises

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

The Institute for Crisis Management  has published an annual “crisis report” about news coverage of crises in the United States since 1990. In 2018, the firm tracked a total of 792,336 ‘negative news stories.’

The Institute defines a business crisis as “any problem or disruption that triggers negative stakeholder reactions that could impact the organization’s business and financial strength”.

The Institute for Crisis Management is actually a private company – and the publication of its figures appears to be a device to get media coverage and to position the company as expert in the field. Nevertheless, its information on crises is interesting.

Sudden versus smoldering crises

In 2018, most of the US crises reaching the news media were ‘smoldering’ – they had been apparent in the background, but no one acted to prevent them or reduce their impact. Around 67% were smoldering, while 33% were classified as ‘sudden.’ The high proportion of smoldering crises indicates managers still don’t understand they should act to prevent or reduce the impact of crises.

Source: Institute for Crisis Management


Main US crisis categories in 2018

Source: Institute for Crisis Management

In 2018, the most US crisis-prone industries were:

  • Banking, Insurance & Financial Services
  • Technology
  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Food
  • Health care
  • Consumer products
  • Media and entertainment

Lessons learned

Only about half of organizations worldwide have a crisis plan in place.

  • Among the most important lessons learned from the thousands of crises in 2018:
    Examine your company’s vulnerabilities and develop strategies to address them before they are needed.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others.
  • Build your reputational equity through frequent, honest dialogue with stakeholders.
  • Be prepared for a crisis to break first via social media
  • Invest in a crisis communications plan. This ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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