Crisis management

Crisis management: A model for authenticity and engagement

Many managers have trouble coming to terms with this:
    Every part of your organization that touches people must buy into the focused message you create.

McKinsey & Company goes farther:
    We’re all marketers now.
    Engaging customers today requires commitment from the entire
    company—and a redefined marketing organization.

Nearly everyone is aware that this is a generally agreed-upon best practice. However, many cannot shake the idea that there can be one story portrayed to the press and customers, and the separate actuality of interactions with customers and suppliers.

A new sub-discipline arose in the 1980s, crisis management. It has generated lots of research into what the corporate response should be to minimize damage to reputation. What I find interesting is that a number practices it warned about presaged later advice about communications in our age of the ubiquitous Internet.

Authenticity and honesty: Prerequisite to engagement

Everyone agrees that any communication, whether through sales collateral or a salesperson, must be built on authenticity and honesty. Talking to a customer using slogans seems the very definition of inauthentic (fake!). On the other hand, all would agree that using plainspoken words like those used over a business lunch is authentic.

Best practices in crisis management boil down to: A unified message, based on the facts, delivered by everyone, without hiding anything, is critical. Without it, the message is not credible.

Crisis management

Crisis management is the process by which a business or other organization deals with a sudden emergency situation with the potential for catastrophic financial loss. The term first appeared in the wake of deaths from Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide 1982. The response by the company that sold Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, was exemplary. Our interest here is the body of knowledge generated since by the many academics who study it.

There are seven crisis management best practices in an oft-cited source, Regester & Larkin. Of those, these, for anticipating a crisis, speak most directly:

  • Have a communications plan. Most important, create a crisis communication plan because “without specific plans for communicating information related to the crisis to key publics, crisis management plans are inadequate”
  • Be completely honest and transparent. Assume that the public will learn if anything important has been withheld; do not delay disclosure.
  • Involve all of you employees; they all matter to your communications. Have good internal relationships before a crisis occurs because “employees are the company’s ‘ambassadors’ and need to be in a position to explain to customers, family and friends what is happening” should a crisis hit. When a crisis arises, the employees are briefed on the details of the response to make sure the public understanding is precisely accurate.

Crisis management practices have not changed significantly since the start of widespread Web use; they have long since been shown effective. Today, factors that made them a requirement in a crisis now make them best for everyday communications. In fact, it has always been true that a focused message, communicated authentically, works best.