Despite of the fact that this should be one of the essentials in any company communications plan, it is most of the times forgotten by corporate communications.

We must say at this point, that most enterprises do not have a plan for crisis management because it is a human feeling to believe that we are always perfect and that everything we are doing is the correct option.

Good news is that, at least, companies are becoming more and more conscious about this imperative and increasing need, but the way is still very long.

Per definition Crisis Communication is aimed to protect, defend or restore any company’s reputation and involves both strategy and technique based on two premises:

  1. Crisis cannot be avoided. What is more, we should be clear on the fact that a crisis may happen anytime and anywhere, meaning that even most powerful brand had suffered a crisis during his history.
  2. The organization has always the ability to control the consequences of a crisis but need to focus their efforts and do not ignore the signals that announce the prelude of a crazy crisis period. Based on this, we can suspect that the difference between a successful crisis resolution is in the management of communications oriented to all stakeholders of the firm.

With this said, we can conclude that having an action plan in advance will definitely contribute to quickly react and take a proactive crisis solution approach with more probabilities of being successful.

The Institute of Crisis Management, defines crisis as “a significant business disruption that stimulates extensive news media coverage. The resulting public scrutiny will affect the organization’s normal operations and also could have a political, legal, financial, and governmental impact on its business”. However, a crisis may always be an opportunity. In fact, in Chinese and Japanese languages, the character for crisis combines two concepts: “danger” and “opportunity”.

But not all crisis are similar and we can find different types depending on the violence of the situation. Ronald D. Smith[1] propose the following ten categories:

  • Violent Disaster: natural occurrence with immediate damage, i.e., earthquake.
  • NonViolent Disaster: natural occurrence with delayed damage, i.e., epidemic.
  • Violent Accident: mishap impacting material, equipment and/or people with immediate injury or death. I.e., truck accident where a pedestrian is killed.   
  • NonViolent Accident: similar to above with the difference of not having deaths. I.e., truck accident only causing material damages.
  • Violent Crime: personal action violating law resulting in injury or death. I.e., poisoning for sabotage, causing deaths.  
  • NonViolent Crime: is like Violent Crime but with a delayed damage. I.e., steal money from employees’ funds.
  • Ethical failing: personal action violating moral standards with either immediate or delayed damage. I.e., intentional lies about benefits of a product.
  • Mismanagement: bad professional actions impacting organizations’ procedures and operations with immediate and/or delayed damage. I.e., Failed investment due to lack of vision of financial team.
  • Violent Opposition: negative impact by external or internal forces with immediate damage. I.e., terrorism.
  • NonViolent Opposition: same as previous type but resulting in delayed damage. I.e., protests.

In any case, we need to keep in mind that over past 10 years management aspects have been the responsible for 52% of all organizational crisis, while only 29% for employees or the remaining 19% for varied and multiple factors.

To face up a crisis, there are several communicative strategies that can be chosen to address the issue: attack, denial, excuse, justification, ingratiation, corrective action, compassion and apology. They can be combined and the choice will depend on few factors, like the severity and preventability of the crisis, the culpability of the organization, or the organizational reputation.

However, it is essential to keep in your crisis communication the following messages in an implicit or explicit way:

– Keep an only spokesperson to represent the organization.

– Do not minimize the situation.

– Be honest and candid.

– Avoid speculation.

– Assume your faults.

– Show concern and compassion for any type of loss or injury.

– Provide an answer ALWAYS and under any circumstance. If you do not have all the info yet, recognize the fact and promise that you will be right back with a response as soon as possible.

– Provide timely updates.

– Communicate with ALL your publics and not only with media, so use social media channels as well to distribute your message. In short, just communicate honestly and respectfully since organizations’ friends and supporters can tolerate the error but never will accept arrogance or lies. So just keep impeccable and spotless speech with coherence and rational actions.

[1] Smith, R. D. (2013). “Strategic Planning for Public Relations”. Nueva York: Routledge. 4th Edition.

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