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Friday, February 5, 2010

Crisis Management: An Overview

Most of us in the PR Industry have heard and used the word Crisis Management, courtesy us most of our clients have also heard about Crisis Management. Almost all of us when making a pitch for business talk about how we will help organisations deal with crisis, if and when it happens.

But are we as PR professionals really geared up to tackle Crisis at our Client's end? Do we really prepare our client in advance to deal with Crisis? If we do have a crisis management programme in place, how often do we review it? Have we ever conducted a mock to test the efficacy of our Crisis plans?

I am sure that the answer to most of these questions would be a NO. We, the practitioners of Communication strategies, lack preparedness in our own organisations to tackle Crisis at our clients end. Just think, how many times in the innumerable brain storming sessions that we regularly undertake have we discussed Crisis Management? We tend to put up a hurried and confused response to a crisis when it occurs and that is largely due to unpreparedness.

Today with communication mediums like social media, internet, innumerable TV channels always searching to come up with Breaking News, Telecom revolution etc., evolving and becoming faster by the day, the risk of even a minor incident being blown out of proportion and becoming a crisis is always lurking around the corner. If we are not prepared to tackle such situations then we are risking our clients reputation which we have nurtured so painstakingly. In the process we are putting our own agencies reputation at risk.

Two high profile examples are worth mentioning here. The first and one of the most discussed globally is that of Tiger Woods. What were his PR guys doing? Especially in Celebrity management, crisis management should have been on top of the list of the strategy for PR. Why didn't they advise the client properly? They should have advised him to come clean in the first instance itself, rather than going into a denial mode and having skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard one after the other. Remember Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Despite all the sordid details, Clinton still ranks very high in public perception. But see the perception about Tiger Woods. He is in hiding unlike Clinton who probably could not afford to do so. But what is Tiger Woods gaining by being in hiding and evading public scrutiny. We all have to admit that he is still the greatest Golfer and has done a huge lot to make Golf popular the world over. He is human after all and how many amongst us would have been able to resist the temptation that was on offer to him? What is his PR machinery doing in this, his greatest hour of Crisis?

Second example I would like to delve upon is more India centric and has to do with the Satyam scandal and the role of PWC. In the whole incident PWC is still smelling like shit. What was the crisis preparedness on their part, especially since they had been through such an incidents in the past not only in India but globally too. In India they were earlier indicted for Global Trust Bank fiasco. In Japan PWC was the auditor in the Book keeping fraud at Cosmetics and Textile maker Kanebo. One would have thought that after a series of such incidents, the Corporate Communication team would have been better prepared. But alas it was not.

So what are the lessons that we can learn from these and other incidents around us? The most important lesson is that most of us consider Crisis as the remotest possibility for our clients and so are not willing to commit resources of time and manpower to a Crisis strategy. The second is that since crisis can be of the most unexpected nature, we tend to argue that it is very difficult to predict the crisis' and hence difficult to be prepared. What is the first response that we as PR professionals advocate? "We will get back to you" or better still "No Comments". Both in my view are the responses that one should take as a measure of the last resort. Ideally immediately as soon as a crisis erupts, there should be a spokesperson from the Client and from the PR agency trying to address the queries of the media and others. We should try to be as transparent as possible in the first 48 hours, when the crisis is at its peak any single irresponsible statement can pour petrol over the fire instead of dousing the fire.

We as PR professionals should act like lawyers to our clients and ask them to trust us with the full facts of the case. We should try and limit the damage and come out with facts that can contain collateral damage. Even if the facts are damning, we should not abstain from giving our point of view and admitting mistakes wherever possible. Ultimately Crisis management is about risk management and containment.

In normal times we should periodically review Crisis Management strategies for our clients, internally as well as with the client. Wherever possible we should try and undertake a mock for any small crisis that occurs at the clients end so that we can see the response to the strategy at both ends.

In short it is better to be prepared than be caught napping. Both for our and clients' betterment.

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