Tim Hughes writes…
It was very professionally satisfying to note a feature article in The Advertiser recently titled “Back from the Brink” (May 21, 2013 P19) which detailed the survival of a number of local and global brands in the face of corporate “near death experiences.”
Hughes PR played a key role in ensuring the survival of half the local organisations listed, including respected juice producer Nippy’s and iconic retailer Harris Scarfe.
The factors attributed to their survival included “public support, visionary leadership, grit and pure luck.”
In my experience over more than 30 years, organisations make their own luck; public support must be earned; leaders certainly need a positive vision and profile; and yes, true grit is required to bring an organisation back from the brink.
But the glue that puts the broken pieces back together is communication.
Make your own luck
Every organisation should have an issues and crisis communication plan integrated with its risk management process.
It’s as vital to business survival as insurance.
The plan should nominate members of the crisis management team including the CEO, financial, technical, legal and communication expertise, delineate key responsibilities and establish management procedures.
It should identify potential issues and crisis scenarios and canvas potential responses – anticipating potential news angles and areas of media and community interest.
Scenarios should be tested and key personnel trained in responses (including media training) and the plan should be ready for roll-out without notice.
Being alert to risk and prepared to manage it plays a much greater role in corporate survival than luck.
Public support must be earned
There is no better preparation for surviving a crisis than having a strong brand.
This means working pro-actively at every level of an organisation to deliver consistently high levels of quality in terms of product and customer experience and communicating effectively with your constituency – filling the “Goodwill Bank” to the point that if an organisation needs to make a “reputational withdrawal” it won’t go into deficit.
The corporate survivors mentioned in this article are all well-regarded brands with strong consumer followings – mostly ill-deserving of the strife they found themselves in. Locally, Coopers, Nippy’s, Harris Scarfe and Spring Gully and globally Apple, Aston Martin, IBM and Harley Davidson.
Not only will doing the right thing (across all levels of an organisation) help minimise reputational risk and avoid a crisis, if an issue does escalate, the weight of public support will be with you, not against you.
Key to winning the battle of public opinion in times of corporate crisis is clear leadership – not only in terms of managing the business but (via effective communication) being seen to manage the business and the community ramifications of the crisis.
The buck must stop with the CEO – particularly when dealing with the media. I have not yet seen an effective crisis communication program where the “PR Guy” takes the lead with the media. To this end, the CEO must front the media, must take responsibility for the organisation’s actions, and actively demonstrate the values of the organisation’s brand to staff, stakeholders, shareholders and Government.
The role of the professional communicator is to support the CEO, assess the facts, tap into the mood, assist with key messaging, and take responsibility for consistent communication across all stakeholder groups.
Despite the best preparations and the best intentions, managing a crisis requires a lot of hard work and commitment from every member of an organisation – top to bottom.
It also requires an organisation to have the fortitude to follow through on the commitments embodied in its brand – in so doing, living up to the expectations of its customers and other stakeholders – despite the many internal and external pressures which can build up during a crisis.
In short, if organisations have a plan – and stick to it – any crisis when it comes, need not be fatal. Indeed, if handled well it may actually enhance their reputation.
To read case studies on crisis communication visit http://www.hughespr.com.au/our-clients/our-case-studies/
Hughes PR is a communications and public relations consultancy with proven and extensive experience in publicity and media relations, issues management, crisis management, digital media and social media strategy and implementation, community consultation, event management, media training, publications and strategic problem solving. Find out more.