Getting communication right in a crisis matters. History is littered with examples of never-recovered share prices and products. Two recent high profile examples have demonstrated how to get it right and how to get it wrong.
Thomas Cook’s handling of the tragic death two small children while on holiday just seemed to go from bad to worse. Andrew Griffin in his new book on crisis management quotes a senior executive at Total, the French energy giant praised for its handling of a gas leak in 2012: “to take care of reputation, you have to take care of people …. first.” Organisations dealing with crises should view at all times what is happening through the lens of the victims.
More recently, the owners of Alton Towers had to deal with the sad accident on one of their rides which has resulted in one young woman having a leg amputated. Speaking to the BBC, Rob Brown, president elect of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said that it was inevitable that there would be impact on reputation but that the company had shown proper concern for the impact on the victims and were taking the incident seriously.
Chris Tucker who delivers courses in crisis communication management blogged some time ago about how in a crisis, it’s important to work with, and learn to love, the lawyers:
“In a crisis the obvious instinct of a lawyer is to minimise the chance of any prosecution and any future compensation claims. That usually means telling the organisation to minimise any public statements. So there is an obvious clash with the classic PR crisis management principle of tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. The standard legal advice is relatively short-term when compared to the longer term view of reputation management taken by the PR professional.
“Make having a good relationship with the legal department a top priority before the crisis hits.”
Projects contain risk, we all learn on our project management courses and the management of risk is something that project managers excel at. However, as a communicator coming into the project world, a big thing for me is that the identification of risk is often about risk to the project; there isn’t always enough attention paid to potential risks to the wider organisation’s reputation.
This is why it matters to have a communicator involved in risk identification, because he or she will have the reputation of the organisation in mind and may be sighted on issues elsewhere that could combine to make the perfect storm of a crisis.