Thursday, July 11, 2013

Crisis Communication: When Disaster Strikes

What would you do if someone posted a YouTube video making fun of your organization? Would you know what to do? Does your organization have a strategy plan in place to repair your organization’s reputation when a crisis situation arises? These are some of the questions that public relations (PR) and communication personnel should ask themselves when dealing with a crisis situation. An organization’s crisis management team needs to have a before, during, and after plan in order to repair damages done by a crisis situation. Each team member needs to know what their specific roles are, and they need to train and rehearse their roles with their team frequently. A specific person needs to be assigned as the spokesperson for the organization. This person needs to already have an idea of what he or she will say when a crisis hits the organization. The organization should already develop a bunch of hypothetical scenarios that the organization could face. Natural disasters such as tornados, bad publicity, internal and external problems should be among the top potential threats that could happen to any organization.
It would be beneficial for the crisis management team to write up a list of potential questions and answers for the spokesperson to rehearse to prepare him or her for interviews from the public and media. Once a crisis does occur, the plan should be implemented immediately, without hesitation. The team should know the exact cause of the crisis situation. Employees and internal publics should be notified first. The organization must address the crisis straight on and demonstrate concern for the victims, if any, and the public. Also, the organization and the PR team must explain what the organization plans to do to solve the problem. Organizations should already have a strong, stable relationship with the community and the media. If the company is at fault, the company should own up to their mistake and apologize. The company will look more trustworthy, and the public will be able to forgive the company. If the company does not apologize, the company will look less trustworthy to the public. The facts need to be presented to the public from the very beginning to the end, because rumors can cause more damage to be done to the company. Someone from the PR team should be on call 24 hours a day during the most extreme part of the crisis. Information that is given to the public and shareholders should be accurate, consistent, and done so in a timely manner. The crisis management team should be able to handle the crisis leaving the organization to function as normal as possible. Time for updating information should be done so constantly and consistently. The organization and crisis management team should learn from the crisis situation. The PR team should review the cause of the crisis, how they responded to the situation, and the results of the situation. The review process will allow the crisis management team to know what to do the next time a crisis occurs. They will need to update their crisis communication plan, because they will know from the previous crisis on what needs improvement. Seeger suggests the followings ten best crisis communication practices: process approaches and policy development; pre-event planning; partnership with the public; listen to the public’s concern and understand the audience; be open and honest; collaborate and coordinate with credible sources; meet the needs of the media and remain accessible; communicate with compassion, concern, and empathy; accept uncertainty; and use messages that are of self-worth. (2006) If a company’s crisis management team follows Seeger’s ten principles, the organization should be able to rebuild their reputation. However, there are a few strategies that organizations should never do when dealing with a crisis. Some of the strategies that companies should avoid are the following: never deny, lie, or hide the situation; never ignore the crisis; do not let the lawyers dictate the decisions, because that could do more harm than good; and never try to avoid the public or media’s questions. If the spokesperson for your organization does not know an answer to a question, he or she should say that he or she cannot address that particular question at this time. Communication and PR departments should never volunteer information freely or off the record. There is no such thing as being “off the record” during a crisis situation. The spokesperson should never try to “wing” their speech or answers. There needs to be a plan of what the speaker will say concerning the crisis. The spokesperson should stay calm at all times when speaking to the public and media about the crisis. There have been some good and bad examples of crisis communication from organizations. Some of the more successful organizational tragedies include the following: Tylenol’s tampering bottles, Texaco’s racial discrimination case, and Dominos’ YouTube crisis. Some of the bad PR examples include the following company disasters: BP’s oil spill, Exxon’s Valdez crisis, and KFC’s salmonella case. Tylenol, Dominos, and Texaco all apologized at the incidents and communicated to the public about how they would fix the problems. These companies were able to repair and rebuild their reputation by utilizing some of Seeger’s principles. They were all open and honest and showed concern for the public and victims. They communicated effectively and stayed in contact with the media with what was going on with their crisis situation. They told the media what they planned to do to fix the problem, and they implemented their plan. However, BP, Exxon, and KFC all did not take responsibility for their crisis situations. BP and Exxon did not take their crisis situation seriously. They both thought the damages from the oil spills would be minimal. Both companies showed a lack of concern for the victims, the aquatic animals, and the environment in general. Also, they tried to shift blame to others instead of admitting that they were at fault. KFC continues to deny that they had anything to do with their crisis situation. KFC flat out refuses to accept any responsibility for the Australian girl who suffered brain damage from eating a chicken Twister wrap that was contaminated with Salmonella. Companies and organizations need to plan, rehearse, and prepare for the worst case scenarios in order to protect and rebuild their reputation when a crisis strikes them. Companies should not be so prideful to think it cannot happen to them, because it can and eventually will happen.
Best practices in crisis communication

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny, you bring up some great points about the need for organizations to have a response plan in place in order to deal with crisis situations. Depending on the type of crisis, many organizations have a plan called COOP, or "continuity of operations," that details the steps to be taken in the event of an emergency situation.

    I also think that organizations must have a process in place to be constantly scanning the environment for potential social media issues. There appears to be a broad spectrum regarding social media use in organizations, from those who are still in denial and do not use any, to those who not only use it, but are proactive in its use. You now see organizations like that with positions in "social media strategy" or "social media community manager." One recent posting called for someone to "proactively monitor and respond to all conversations ... scan social sites for relatedness and competitive insights ... prevent social media crises scenarios." Those organizations will be the ones to respond quickly and responsibly, like Tylenol and Dominos.