Crisis Management: Firefighting With the Right People

It’s the call no Account Manager wants to receive. Especially on a Monday morning.

“Our website is down.”

When I get a call like this, my brain immediately goes into hyperdrive. It could be a hundred things — is it a server issue, did the database fail, is this the beginning of the zombie apocalypse? In this particular instance, it was a worst-case scenario for a digital marketing agency. The site was deleted and completely lost. All the files — blog posts, bios, images — were just … gone. Every. Single. Page. Of our client’s entire website.

It doesn’t happen often (translation: practically never) but in the transfer from one agency to another, sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as we’d all like. The next question is: What do we do to fix it? How would our team come together and rescue this client while still maintaining projects and deadlines for all the other clients?

Spoiler alert: We did it. How we got there was a powerful lesson in crisis management and the importance of trusting the talent and expertise of your team.

Assess the situation

We needed to discover what happened and then quickly figure out how to recover. Imagine a real-life fire: before you pour water on the flames it’s a good idea to assess the situation. What is burning? What is nearby that could help or worsen the situation? Has everyone evacuated the area? Only when you’ve gotten a lay of the land can you safely extinguish the blaze.

Was the site completely lost? No backups? The answer, sadly, was Yes. The site was deleted and unrecoverable. Now we knew what had happened. Before we got to the bottom of how and why we needed to solve the issue. Our client needed a site … fast.

Digital Marketing Tasks You Can't Afford to Skip

Scrap your plans

We were in the middle of redesigning a brand new website for this client. We had a beautiful homepage, sitemap, 8-week project plan with milestones, deadlines, and planned meetings with client presentations.

All of that, out the window.

We did not have 8 weeks, we now had 48 hours. This was a real-time litmus test of our Agile methodology. We had to respond to the change and work with/around our processes in order to do what was best for the client in this situation. And even though we weren’t able to use our previous plans, we quickly developed a new, leaner version and hit the ground running.

We put up a temporary splash page with basic information so that any site visitors knew that the website was under construction and still had a way to contact them. We set up redirects for all of their previous pages so that Google didn’t think the site had disappeared.

Having a new Agile plan was an important step in crisis management. It ensured that we were all working together toward the same, newly defined goals.

Fight fire with teamwork

We were lucky in many ways, but first and foremost, we had clients that were open and willing to work with us while we zigged, zagged, and did whatever was necessary get a site up. Our team isn’t just the people who work inside the agency, it’s also our clients. And we could not have asked for better team players in this situation.

Our in-house team came together in an incredible way. We already had a homepage design ready, so our Creative Director presented to the client, received feedback, made changes, and moved the page to development in just a few short hours. Our developers went heads-down to build the homepage.

Next, we used data and good ol’ fashioned common sense to prioritize which pages to restore first. We pulled everything we could find on the Wayback Machine to help us restore pages faster. Then we took it a step further and optimized all of the old content so it was up to our standards.

We tested a new method of development that we’d been debating for months (should we use this, should we use something else, what is the best system… back and forth, yes or no). The time for debate was over – we had to go all-in and make it work.

It paid off. After 2 full days of all-hands-on-deck, we had built a viable site.

It was smaller than we’d planned, but it had all of the client’s vital information, it looked great, and the client was over the moon.

website redesign checklist

Remember to hold the line

Agency operations don’t get a time-out when a fire occurs. Other clients still have projects, and those projects are just as important as the fire. So while our crisis management team moved quickly to work through this issue, other team members had to pick up the slack in a big way to make sure all other deadlines and deliverables stayed on track.

This was an exercise in trust, and our culture of collaboration paid off. Our well-established systems, coupled with a lot of conversation between team members, kept our normal volume of work moving for all of our clients. The crisis team could focus on the fire; the rest of the team had everything else under control.

We knew we could trust our systems and each other. That confidence is priceless in a crisis.

The smoke clears, and we move forward

Agency-client relationships can’t exist in a state of firefighting for long. It’s important to fix things quickly and then reestablish an equilibrium.

After taking a breather over the weekend, our team came together again to reassess the plan and restore the rest of the site. We went back to the original sitemap and project plan — what can be salvaged and what needs to be adjusted?

We took our new plan to the client. Our commitment to building strong relationships built on honest communication paid off. The client has been dialed in and supportive throughout the process. They ask great questions, provide valuable feedback, and then trust us to do what we do best. And it feels great.

While firefighting isn’t an ideal environment for projects, I found crisis management can actually be fun when you’ve got the right people beside you. A strong team, supported by solid but flexible work processes, can help to quickly solve problems, execute solutions, and stay positive even when facing a four-alarm blaze.