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9 ways OpenAI could have responded to unfolding crisis

By Lindsey Chastain

PR professionals can learn something from the abrupt departure, and reinstatement, of OpenAI’s CEO.


A woman dealing with a PR crisis.OpenAI faced a pivotal moment when CEO Sam Altman’s abrupt departure led to mass employee protests — the company he founded has now reinstated him. Organizations facing crisis risk instability if they don’t handle situations promptly and correctly. 


Drawing from crisis management best practices, here are the key next steps for OpenAI:


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1. Acknowledge the gravity of the situation.

Leaders need to recognize the level of concern and quickly communicate with employees. Remaining non-responsive further erodes trust. Assure staff that executives hear their worries and will address them.  


2. Assemble an internal crisis response team. 

To navigate decisions, appoint an ad-hoc team of senior managers. They must meet daily to steer the company’s response to this situation during this turbulent period.


3. Gather all the facts before making a decision, big or small.

Before taking any dramatic actions, methodically gather details on events leading to the CEO's departure and employee unrest. Construct an accurate timeline of contributing factors.


4. Develop a coordinated response strategy.

Create a plan of priorities, responsibilities, actions, and timetables to stabilize operations. It must balance maintaining business continuity with responding to employee feedback.  


5. Designate an official spokesperson.

Select a respected leader to be the sole conveyor of company messaging. They distill the official position on unfolding events and the next steps for employees, the board, investors, and the media.


6. Have frequent internal communication.

During crises, transparency and engagement breed trust. Provide regular status updates on new developments and the evolving response strategy. 


7. Offer reassurances externally.

Publicly reinforce OpenAI’s mission and reaffirm commitments to stakeholders during leadership transitions. Focus on fundamentals continuing unchanged.  


8. Draw on external crisis expertise if warranted.

If intense public scrutiny persists, consider discreetly retaining crisis PR experts adept at navigating reputational issues.  


9. Learn and improve. 

After the crisis subsides, thoroughly assess root causes and identify process changes to avoid repeat issues. Analyze both what exacerbated the events as well as what helped diffuse tensions.


The path forward relies on swift yet thoughtful actions centered on transparency. Crisis breeds the opportunity to address systemic weaknesses and rebuild even stronger. As PR professionals, we must rise to the occasion and learn from history and other company’s actions.


For more information about what to do in a PR crisis, download our ​​e-book “Managing Public Relations in a Crisis.”


Photo by Alexander Dummer

Topics: crisis communications, corporate communications

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