Tags - crisis

Journalists love crises. Some may think this says something about the character of these folks, and it is true that some journalists are cynics. But there are other reasons that make corporate crises natural subjects for the media.
First, there is emotionality. Corporate crises generate excitement, even if it is largely negative, and excitement easily turns viral, meaning exciting tends to spread fast. Because today’s mass media are turning ever shallower, they tend to value gossip higher than cool-headed analysis, and so they go for subjects that generate buzz.

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This is the first of a five-part series on crises. Let’s start by asking ourselves what makes crisis, more specifically, a corporate crisis. A crisis is a situation in which a company’s public reputation deteriorates dramatically so that there is the danger that the company may suffer permanent damage, up to and including ruin.

One of the most egregious examples of a corporate crisis was the proposed sinking of British Petroleum’s Brent Spar drilling platform twenty years ago, or McDonald’s ill-advised reaction to activist protests around the same time. Or consider Tepco, the utility that runs many of Japan’s nuclear reactors, and its mishandling of the destruction of the Fukushima power plant.

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Crisis can expose defects. When a storm breaks out, it can turn up all sorts of things that until then had been out sight. When crisis hits, the communications department usually will have its hands full. Though this may not seem the time to worry about image defects, a crisis is actually as good a moment as any to take care of them. After all, if the world is watching you, at least it will tend to listen more closely to what you have to say. In a crisis, the communications department needs to keep an eye on the way it would want the public to see the company. Was it being successful lately? Was it successful merely in terms of sales and profits? Where was it creating value for the community? And what are its prospects for the years ahead? Is it possible the crisis actually resulted from the company going through a change, and a change that might make it more beneficial for society?

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Being prepared is everything, and this is also true of companies in a crisis, which is why crisis communications begins long before an actual crisis. A company needs to systematically monitor public sentiment to detect a nascent crisis. So monitoring is the first thing in crisis communications. But what to monitor? Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Forums? If so, which ones? And who should be doing it? And how do we record whatever we monitor? Who is to have access to the findings? A company needs to answer this sort of questions, and the way to do this is to compile a social media governance, that is to say guidelines laying down how staff should work with media such as Facebook and Twitter.

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Crises are neither good nor bad. The true sense of the word is that it is a decision situation. Best to view it as an opportunity. When your organization becomes caught up in a crisis, you’ll need good communications skills and above all – empathy.

Three sure-fire ways to make a crisis worse is stonewalling, salami tactics and passing the parcel.

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In our five-part series, today’s installment is about communications. The crisis has arrived, and the public is turning to our company. What should we say? What do the people expect to hear? The first thing to tell the public is: we’re sorry. We’re sorry we messed up, and if we didn’t mess up, we’re sorry that it looked that way. We also understand that the public wants to know what we are doing. We take this seriously. What this is about is empathy. It’s the Greek word for feeling with the other person. Public opinion today tends to be biased against big corporations. Whether this is warranted or not is beside the point, there’s no arguing with reality. So, in a crisis, it’s a good idea to try to ease the pressure and to calm public excitement.

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