Keeping tabs on your competition is a basic tenet in business. Most of us watch what they’re doing on social media, listen to what they say at speaking events, and read what the media report. 

One element that might be missing from your plan is closely observing the competition as they endure a crisis. It may sound mean-spirited, but it’s actually a golden opportunity to glean insights into how your competition operates, especially when the doors are thrown open during a public-facing crisis. 

Here are a few specific benefits to monitoring a competitor’s crisis. 

Gain competitive insights

During a crisis, companies are often compelled to reveal more about their systems and operations than they normally would. This presents the opportunity to learn more about how they work. Your team should look closely at the competition’s talking points and see if you agree with the way they responded. If they did a great job, learn from it. If it was a disaster, learn from that, too. 

The “Better them than us” opportunity to drill

Treat their crisis as an opportunity to drill your crisis response team. Follow your protocols using the competition’s real-life problem and see what, if anything, you would do differently. Identify strengths and weaknesses in your own hypothetical response, and develop updated crisis response procedures based on what you learn from vicariously going through the experience. 

Identify immediate and emerging threats

Could the same crisis your competition is enduring happen to you, too? Take time to think about how when something goes wrong in any industry, it often makes the whole industry look bad, not just one particular company or organization. If you’re lucky, you may have time to come up with a carefully crafted response to questions.  It is also possible that brand is lumped in with the competition’s particular crisis, and you won’t have time to decide exactly how address it—the media could be at your door at any moment. If this is the case, activate your crisis team and prepare to respond. 

Position your brand

It is hard to watch anyone go through a tough time, but a competitor’s crisis will often reveal opportunities for communicating with an audience whom your competitor may have alienated. It may even be possible to strengthen relationships with stakeholders who previously been difficult to reach or unresponsive to your efforts. Now is the time to position your company or brand as providing an alternative good or service. 

Insert yourself into the conversation 

Of course, as we learned a few months ago, your competition’s crisis may provide you with an opportunity to newsjack, if appropriate. 

Bottom line, instead of just watching remotely while a competitor undergoes a public crisis, take advantage of the new information coming to light and try to learn from it. The opportunity may not present itself again. Of course, the right thing to do could very well be to reach out to a struggling competitor with a sincere offer to help them through a crisis, but those decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis.