Home | Leadership | Crisis communications: Emerging from the tornado

Crisis communications: Emerging from the tornado

By
Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Crisis communications:  Emerging from the tornado

Middle market executives need to be at least as savvy as their larger and smaller counterparts when it comes to dealing with public relations during after a crisis. From the July/August issue of PRESIDENT&CEO Magazine.

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily – The Guardian, June 5

Tesco sales tumble on horsemeat scandal - The Guardian, June 5

Facebook Security Bug Exposes Account Information of 6 Million Users - ABC News, June 21

The headlines above are but a tiny sample of the kinds of major public relations crises that can hit otherwise reputable companies and brands in the simple course of doing business (or, in the case of Verizon, in the course of having to deal with the power of the federal government).  Many times, perhaps more often than not, solid companies are put in a position of having to deal with existential crises not of their making, and which arise not from negligence or incompetence, but from external forces or the normal vicissitudes of producing products and services. 

Middle market companies in particular are often most at risk in such situations, given their often non-existent public relations apparatus and their relative lack of “clout” in government and media circles.  How such companies deal with an unexpected crisis in terms of shaping the public’s perception can often mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy.  It’s that important.

“In crisis communication, if you say one wrong thing to a reporter it can go exactly the wrong way from what you intended,” says David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a Georgia-based public relations and political consulting firm. 

 "Many times, perhaps more often than not, solid companies are put in a position of having to deal with existential crises not of their making, and which arise not from negligence or incompetence, but from external forces or the normal vicissitudes of producing products and services". Assessing how to deal with a specific situation is not always as straightforward as one might think, however.  While there is a natural tendency for companies to want to “get out ahead of the story,” issue press releases and grant copious interviews, such is not always the wisest of strategies.

”Usually with crisis communication, if there was a mistake, if there was a problem, a product defect, poor quality service, etc., people in my profession want the client to apologize, get in front of the story and then say how you're going to correct the problem,” Johnson says.

 In the Verizon case, however, Johnson cautions against such an approach.

“In this instance, though, with the 24/7 news cycle and the fact that it also entwines the political and governmental aspects, the best thing for these corporations that really are caught up in it is to say nothing.  The reason I'm saying that is that people are forgetting even what phone carrier it was.  The focus now is on the political debate.  And for a company, when politicians are involved, when it begins to become an argument over philosophies, you want to stay out of that crossfire.

“Anything you say, number one, keeps your company's name alive in the public's mind, that you are involved in the scandal. 

“The other thing is, number two, in your apology, in your mea culpa, whatever you do, you're going to have to take some kind of side.  ‘Yeah, we're sorry but we were doing this for national security,’ or ‘Yes, we're sorry and we shouldn't have done it.’  See, you're offending somebody on one side of the political spectrum that’s your customer.

“Say nothing, especially as the story continues to skyrocket.  People are not talking about Verizon.  They are not talking about Microsoft, realistically, or even Google or Facebook.  They are talking about what the president knew, when did he know it, how long has this been going on, what types of information, what are the motives of Edward Snowden…they are not talking about the companies and the business policies.  For the corporation, you want your name gone.  You don't want people remembering that issue, and any kind of mea culpa just reinforces and keeps your name out there, so people are shooting at you.”

1 2 »
Join PRESIDENT&CEO on LinkedIn

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

Captcha