At Culloton + Bauer Luce, our team of advisors represent some of the country’s most prominent business, political and civic leaders who seek us out to defend their credibility, solve problems and create new opportunities in tough times. In our new “Meet the Crisis Expert” blog series, we’ll meet the individuals who make up CBL’s team of expert counselors. First up, Executive Vice President Natalie Bauer Luce.
As a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist, Natalie has had an impressive career working at the intersection of government, law, politics and business. Keep reading to learn more about her experience working in crisis.
How do you define crisis communications?
Natalie Bauer Luce: I’m sure Webster’s Dictionary has an erudite definition, but I’d say you know a crisis when you see one. In the age of digital, a crisis is now only a click away. It can be something as simple as a tweet or a soundbite gone wrong or the unimaginable, like a train wreck or plane crash. Whatever it is, the underlying current of a crisis is that it’s an unplanned incident that derails your routine operations, threatens your reputation and is something you need to get a handle on quickly.
What skills do you think are most important for crisis managers to possess in order to succeed in this field?
Natalie Bauer Luce: Focus, discipline and speed to action. You have to cut through the noise, zero in on the problem and quickly find a route out of the mess. You can’t just paper over problems with press releases. You have to actively work a problem and communicate what you’re doing to get the critics off your back a bit and give you room to breathe to figure out what’s next.
What do you like most about working in crisis communications?
Natalie Bauer Luce: What I like most about our crisis work is what I refer to as “the sickness.” It’s the attraction to the unpredictability and intensity of the work. You never know when you’re going to get the call, and when you do, you have to drop everything and just go. There’s a sort of adrenaline rush that is irresistible once you get a dose of it — hence the name “the sickness” — because it’s definitely not a 9-to-5 gig. So that’s the initial appeal, but what really keeps me at it is seeing the impact we can make for our clients. We step in when teams are down for the count. Whether it’s the media hounding them, regulators calling them out or litigants taking them to court, we help them see a path forward. Perhaps that’s romanticizing things, but when you work hand in hand with a client who’s been through hell, when you help see them to the other side, it’s very gratifying.
Do you have a particular industry or topic you’re focused on within the crisis communications field?
Natalie Bauer Luce: I work across industries, but I’m especially drawn to litigation matters given my experience running communications for Attorney General Madigan. I really enjoy partnering with lawyers who recommend their clients supplement their legal strategy with a public relations strategy.
I also enjoy working with our tech clients because the issues are so fascinating — the rate of innovation has outpaced the law (e.g., Uber, Facebook, et al.), so inevitably, there’s tension there. Before I got into consulting, I worked in the startup scene because I wanted to understand that push-pull dynamic between the regulators and the entrepreneurs. Because I have that insider experience on both sides, I can provide better counsel to my clients and translate what they’re doing in a way that regulators may be more open to — or at least understand.
What’s a recent campaign you worked on that you’re proud of?
Natalie Bauer Luce: To no one’s surprise, our most recent work has predominantly dealt with COVID-19. Nothing says “crisis” quite like a global pandemic. We’ve advised manufacturing companies that pivoted their production lines to make critical supplies like hand sanitizer and medical masks. We worked with sports teams and casinos that had to shut down in the early weeks of the U.S. outbreaks, and we advised hospitals and long-term care facilities how to navigate the spotty federal response to the pandemic.
How has social media and the expanding digital space impacted your job as a crisis communicator?
Natalie Bauer Luce: Digital is now the primary filter through which we do our business. It’s how you identify emerging issues. It’s accelerated the time for which you have to respond to an incident, and whatever the response is, it has to have a digital-first approach. This is where information lives now.
What is one thing that’s oftentimes overlooked by your clients during a crisis that shouldn’t be?
Natalie Bauer Luce: Denial is the #1 enemy of our business. It’s rare at the outset of a crisis that our clients aren’t overwhelmed or in disbelief that they’re in this situation to begin with. Our job is to move them quickly from the grieving process and shift them into gear to attack the problem. Easier said than done. Our job is part grief counselor, part drill sergeant … we’ll hold your hand to get you through the initial shock, and then we snap you into action.
To learn more about Natalie’s impressive career, click here.