PR Crisis Management: What Solutions Can Save your Company?

PR Crisis Management

This is an extract from a lecture by Helio Fred Garcia, a coach and executive director of a crisis management firm. He talked about crisis management strategies and steps for leaders to mitigate crises effectively.

Table of contents

What is a Crisis?

A crisis is any non-routine event or issue that causes any form of operational disruption, any meaningful loss of competitive position, or risk of health or safety to those who matter to the organization and society at large. 

Two Types of Crisis and their Sources

A crisis can be acute or chronic. An acute crisis means something that happens suddenly and unexpectedly, like an explosion, a fire, or a product failure. Chronic crises continue over time. If business crisis management is not well organized, the risk tends to intensify.

Another way of understanding a crisis is viewing it from three different angles:

  1. A crisis can be caused by us when we commit misconduct or fail in our duty. 
  2. A crisis can be imposed upon us. Someone can sabotage our facility, or an adversary or critic can attack us publicly. We are the recipient of such a crisis.
  3. A crisis can take place around us. For example, COVID 19 caused an economic downturn and many companies got into financial trouble that forced them to create business crisis management plans.

Often leaders define a crisis as something bad that has already happened and is already public. The truth is that the crisis that has already become public is much harder to manage. The best-managed crisis is the one you never hear about. 

A crisis is easier to mitigate early, before the company has lost a competitive position, or experienced loss of trust or a financial downturn. If the crisis management strategy of the company is organized effectively, it can diminish the negative impact, with no harm done. 

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The discipline of PR Crisis Management: Two Types of Readiness

The discipline of crisis management is to recognize that there is a sequence of considerations of what, how, and when to take action. The company needs to be disciplined and have readiness in two aspects. 

Operational readiness means having structures that are designated to deal with the crisis. The company needs to clarify who is responsible for what, and how to implement crisis management processes. One of the failures of crisis management in public relations is ambiguity of process and lack of role clarity. With no clarity, people work against each other.

Mental readiness allows leaders to know when to implement operational readiness. It is important not to panic and to keep thinking clearly for effective PR crisis management.

Six Questions to Deal with Crisis

The creation of an effective crisis management strategy begins with this round of questions. The leader should ask questions in the right order. The company will misfire if it jumps from the realization of the crisis to a solution. 

  1. What is the nature of the crisis we face? This means that we should name the problem clearly. It should not be made public. We just need to point out precisely what problem we are faced with. For example, if someone had died because of an accident, we name it directly.
  2. What are the risks that the problem presents to us? The discipline of PR crisis management is to understand the risks if we do nothing and then to focus on what we can do to take those risks seriously.
  3. What is the outcome we seek? Analysis should be made in terms of mitigating risks. For example, we know that COVID 19 is a deadly disease that can be transmitted through the air. The outcome is to prevent people from getting sick and dying. We cannot react effectively to the crisis if there is no clear understanding of what outcome can be expected.
  4. What are the most important groups of people who will be affected by us? They can be employees, customers, and investors. We should point out who is directly affected and involved in this crisis and who will suffer from its consequences.
  5. What would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do when facing this kind of problem? That’s the most important question in terms of response to the crisis. If we ask ourselves this question with clarity, we can have a list of possible actions to take.
  6. What do people need to experience from us to fulfill their expectations? It is all about execution:what we say and do.

What should Leaders do as Part of Social Media Crisis Management?

Apart from having professional skills and keeping a cool head, leaders should be able to redirect impulses and drive them to more productive places. For example, emotionally undisciplined leaders can blame someone else for the crisis or diminish the significance of the problem. 

CEOs should have humility and empathy. This is a big part of a response. Leaders who don’t have humility typically lead their organizations to worse results. 

An example of bad social media crisis management is the response of the CEO of BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The leader could not empathize or properly react to the impact of the catastrophe. The lack of understanding of the issue ended his career.

The CEO should not be the crisis manager. The leader is a decision-maker, a public voice, and someone who directs resources to the execution of the crisis response. 

Typical Mistakes of Crisis Management in Public Relations 

Here is a list of typical mistakes that worsen a crisis. Look for these missteps, and if you see any, intervene early to prevent them from continuing.

  1. To ignore the problem. This leads to crisis escalation before we can address it.
  2. To diminish the significance of the problem. 
  3. To compartmentalize the problem, that is, to split the problem into several small ones and not share all the information with the public.
  4. To lie and mislead. Attempting to misdirect is a bad step in crisis communication management. 
  5. To be paralyzed and not able to operate adequately. This is a serious mistake, especially for social media crisis management, where you need to act quickly.
  6. To over-confess publicly. 
  7. To dribble bad news out over time. You should reveal as much bad news in as short an amount of time as possible and not spread it out.
  8. To not to be aware of the crisis in time.

Is it Worth it to Turn to Crisis Management Firms? 

There is nothing wrong with talking to specialists who don’t know the company. Crisis management firms constantly examine businesses that are in crisis and know some patterns of what can be done to deal with the problem.

The biggest mistake is to attempt to improvise in the crisis and ask the wrong questions in the wrong order. Concern about how to deflect blame or protect one’s own job are not the best strategies in crisis communication management. Companies need to resolve the stress and be rigorous in managing crises.

What Crises Do We Expect in the Next 5-10 Years?

Of course, we don’t have a crystal ball to predict future crises. The major trend that the pandemic has caused is the reorganization of working and customer sectors as technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous. We need to improve our ability to adapt faster. Another possible future crisis is global climate change. This is a serious disruptive factor we need to be attentive to.

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