Fixing the ImpossiBle
24/7 (202) 973-1300   

The Art of War – Time Tested Corporate Crisis Strategies (Part I)

This week’s article is part 1 of 2 by Scotts Marrs, Managing Partner at Akerman’s Houston office and our first guest columnist, on his experience and advice on corporate crisis strategy. To submit a guest column, please email it to our Marketing Coordinator, Nicole Mailhoit at [email protected].

COVID. Lingering supply disruptions. Recession. Inflation. Ukraine. Political unrest. Scandals. Governmental investigations. Social media. Climate change. Stock volatility. We have seen an unprecedented wave of corporate crisis. The key to survival may be found in the 2,500-year-old Chinese masterpiece, The Art of War penned by the philosopher and military strategist General Sun Tzu. As Sun Tzu correctly recognized, “a wise leader plans success:”

“[T]he general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. . . many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat . . It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” Sun Tzu, Chapter VI (“Weak Points and Strong”)

With those words in mind, we consider sage corporate crisis strategies as gleaned from Sun Tzu’s observations.

Develop An Effective Corporate Crisis Public Relations Plan Before You Need It

  • Prepare – lay your PR communication plans in anticipation of events.
    (“With more careful calculations, one can win; with less, one cannot.”)
  • Always plan for the worst.
    (“As water has no constant form, there are in warfare no constant conditions.”)
  • Assemble your “corporate crisis team” with clearly defined responsibilities.
    (“A confused army leads to another’s victory.”)
  • Strive to “do the right thing” in response to a problem or event; it is good business and engenders good public relations.
    (“Do the right thing and don’t’ try to compete for outside alliances.”)
  • Calculate your adversaries’ weaknesses and maneuvers, and the public perception of yours.
    (“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”)
  • Find trouble before it finds you.
    (“Know the enemy, know yourself.”)
  • Develop a good relationship with the media and use news/web crawlers to monitor events relevant to your business. Make sure personnel “on the ground” funnel relevant intel to your PR point person.
    (“Those who do not use local guides are unable to obtain the advantages of the ground.”)


Effectively Implement Your Corporate Crisis PR Plan

  • Important messages should come from the top.
    (“Command your people in a way that gives them a higher shared purpose.”)
  • Identify an official company spokesperson – and choose wisely (desired attributes: calm, good judgment, focused, authoritative).
    (If Sun Tzu had known Walter Cronkite, he might have said, “He who speaks for you must have the respect of those whose opinion can help ensure victory.”)
  • Keep your team lean and mean – speed and flexibility are key. There is no such thing as a normal “news cycle” today; it is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with instantaneous global access to social media and breaking news.
    (“Mastering speed is the essence of war.”)
  • Where sensitive public perception issues exist, best practices usually dictate an “internal” company spokesperson to convey genuine concern.
    (“Winning a battle is always a matter of people.”)
  • Give the accurate perception of being proactive in identifying and remedying the problem.
    (“Plan an advantage by listening. This makes you powerful. Get assistance from the outside. Know the situation. Then planning can find opportunities and give you control.”)


Scott D. Marrs ([email protected]) is Managing Partner – Houston Office at Akerman LLP in Houston. He represents clients in domestic and international commercial disputes, trials, and arbitrations.

More Posts