By Deborah Hudson, ABC
IABCLA Vice President, Member Retention; Past President

We’ve seen our share of crises in 2020 – personal, medical, professional, political. So, an hour with Jim Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, IABC fellow and co-author of The Decency Code, was just what the doctor ordered. 

IABC chapters in San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco and Silicon Valley joined IABCLA in sponsoring Jim’s presentation, “Ethical and Unethical Crisis Management,” on January 21 as the first of four parts of a Communication Management Pro Series of workshops and networking.

Jim’s insights come from a long career in guiding top executives through their greatest crises and ethical dilemmas. Despite the depth and complexity of his experience, his insight was direct and simple (though not easy). 

I came to the workshop with some experience in crisis communications working with risk management for insurance companies – tabletop exercises, scenarios, training, after action reports. But from the beginning of Jim’s presentation, I added substantially to my understanding.

What is a crisis? According to Jim, crises are “show-stopping, people-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-redefining, trust-busting situations that create victims or explosive visibility.”


Looking at crisis management as caring for victims opens up new insights and approaches. And new timelines. Move fast… the “golden hour” for victims is 60-120 minutes. Minutes. After that, accusations of being manipulative, secretive and inauthentic complicate relationships and the path to resolving the crisis grows longer and twistier.

Jim points out that apology and empathy are the ethical and practical approaches to a crisis. “Apologies,” he said “tend to stop bad things from starting and starting bad things to stop.” And empathy is a positive, constructive action that demonstrate decency and integrity. And, according to Jim – and who would argue with him – empathy speaks louder than words possibly can. And that is critical for communicators to keep in mind. Empathy first, then speeches and releases.

In a rich presentation and discussion, these are just two highlights. 

This is the first of four presentations in the Communication Management Pro Series – covering strategy, measurement, and audience-centric communications. Use the series to work toward your CMP or SCMP certification in 2021 (the exam will be held following the series) or simply use it to refresh or improve your communication management knowledge and practice. Find out more at