Beware the "ST" Factor: Your Friend or Foe in Crisis

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a week-long series about crisis communications. These guest posts were written by Jane Jordan-Meier, who recently released her book, “The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management.” You can read all five articles in this series here and purchase her excellent book here.

Beware of the “ST” factor when facing a crisis.

Superlative words that end in ST – the fastest, the worst, the first, the last, the longest, the smallest, the most – are most often used to contextualize a situation, event, or company. They are particularly used by journalists in a crisis, for and against you.

Superlative Words on a white background

Consider these headlines:

“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico claimed the unwelcome title of the nation’s worst ever on Thursday.”

“A ‘super toxic’ strain of E. coli has caused Europe’s worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak.”

“Collapse of Scotland’s biggest airline, Flyglobespan, strands more than 4,500 passengers.”


The ST factor can relate to a number of news values that will determine where the story is placed. If it is high in impact (e.g., biggest, largest, worst) and affects a lot of people, it will most likely go to the front page or lead the news, as we saw in the San Francisco Chronicle, when the Bay Bridge in San Francisco was closed after pieces from a Labor Day weekend repair hit three cars. Similarly with the BP oil spill that has earned the title of the worst oil-related disaster in American history.

So plan for the ST factor when thinking about crafting your message, your response, or for what may be said about your organization.

You may want to use an ST word to contextualize the incident. For example, this is the first time something like this has ever happened in our proud 150-year history.

Think about the stories that will be told about you, about your product, your organization, your industry, indeed your country, in a crisis. What are the “ST” factors already “in ink,” for we will Google them and swap and share them, tweet them, post them, blog them. Will you be labeled the worst? Perhaps the fastest response? Or will it be the most heroic deeds of your people that people that will be remembered well after the front pages have moved onto the next BIG story and Twitterville has found the next Big thing to gossip about?

What ST factors do you want associated with your incident? If you have the best damn rescue team, then tell us. You can tweet that news.

The ST factor will be present in news coverage of a crisis. You’ve been warned.

Click here to read all five articles in this special crisis series.

Click here to order Jane’s excellent book.