Be the MVP in an SOS Moment
When the CEOs of Detroit’s car giants recently arrived in Washington, D.C. aboard their corporate jets, their behavior was labeled by many as insensitive in light of their request for federal financial relief. Nobody considered their actions more outrageous than public relations firms who wondered how the automakers’ handlers could have allowed such an egregious lapse of judgment to take place.
While class action suits, accidents and disasters immediately bring to mind the necessity for crisis communication management, the carmakers’ unfortunate choice of transportation underscores the reality that a company’s reputation can be tarnished in many situations where lives are not at stake.
That premise is driven home in Crisis Communication: Practical PR Strategies for Reputation Management and Company Survival. Written by a team of authors from a variety of countries, this book’s multiple voices emphasize that the effective implementation of a crisis plan, tailored for a variety of scenarios, protects a company’s reputation by communicating the right message, at the right time and to the right people.
Four to Follow
Being able to execute a crisis plan with such effective precision, the authors stress, takes practice borne of intense preparation, tempered by speed and characterized by transparency. They rate many of the most publicized crises of the last half of a century in terms of these traits –– the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989), the cyanide-laced Tylenol crisis (1982), the Union-Carbide Bhopal disaster (1984), the Chernobyl explosion (1986), Banda Aceh tsunami (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). And for the most part, their corporate or government scorecards leave a lot to be desired.
While these and other crises received considerable press attention over the last 20 years, the authors, with an impressive collective record of media relations experience, offer perspectives and interesting back stories not readily available in the press. They also provide helpful examples of companies that have managed their crises well, such as the double dose of calamities the Irish supermarket chain Superquinn experienced in the mid-1980s when it suffered a series of fires in its stores. Superquinn’s actions, placing the welfare of customers and staff as its top priority and executing its superior communication strategy, would later reap many dividends for this chain.
Managing Across National Boundaries
More than ever before, corporate changes often have global consequences that can provoke a crisis. Crisis Communication is particularly good when its authors discuss the challenges of protecting company reputations across national boundaries. Noteworthy, too, are their discussions about dealing with the 24/7 nature of Web 2.0. There are new ground rules to understand, some dicier than others — a frontier that the crisis handlers of the mid-1980s could not yet imagine, leverage or manipulate.
Checklist lovers will want to check out the chapter devoted entirely to crisis-control lists. Some of the lists include reviewing preparations, identifying public groups and stakeholders, designing a crisis center, building a crisis communication survival kit, creating media backgrounders and identifying best practices for crisis behavior.
If the most predictable fact about history is that it tends to repeat itself, then that is all the justification needed for both the public and private sectors to read this book. As the Crisis Communication authors so deftly point out, preparing for the wrath of Murphy’s Law is far less expensive than being at its mercy.