Why Companies Still Struggle with Crisis

5WPR News
18.12.18

Crisis communications, on its surface, is easy to comprehend and understand – when something bad happens, respond accordingly. However, crisis (as it is simply referred to in PR) much like the industries it serves, is constantly evolving to effectively and efficiently respond in times of need.

We sat down with Robert Ford, Senior Vice President of Corporate, to discuss why companies continue to struggle with crisis communications, and how they can keys to better prepare companies for it. One of the biggest problems companies make? “Authenticity…” Read the full interview below!

Why do you think companies continue to struggle with crisis communication?

There are a handful of reasons companies struggle with crisis communications.

One reason is that the ground continues to shift beneath them – social media pile on, while not a new phenomenon, is a path laden with pitfalls.  There’s still no exact science as to how and when a company should use social media for communicating in a crisis.

Part of the challenge is that customers have greater and greater direct contact with brands, particularly direct-to-consumer brands.  It is a double edged sword: while people feel a deeper connection to your brand, they demand answers when they feel an action you’ve made or a position you’ve taken as a company is not consistent with what they believe your brand should be about.

Companies are often between a rock and a hard place. Granted, there are plenty of situations where a company has taken a misstep and should acknowledge it, apologize for it, and make it right.  But for those companies who may be faced with a situation where the public conversation is not a fair representation of what’s taken place, they have a serious challenge ahead of them.  Not the least of which is that the media is incentivized in the wrong ways – the media is built to be first, not to get it right.

What do you think are the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to crisis management?

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes companies make in crisis situations, beyond technical glitches like timing or nuance in messaging, is not being authentic to their brand. Crisis situations are uncomfortable for companies to deal with – they will do anything to make it stop. The tendency is for companies to think too much about what they’re supposed to say and the subsequent criticism that will come with it.  As a result, they don’t act with authenticity, and the response is usually rushed.

A concept underpinning a company’s crisis response should be: “What are we willing and able to do as a business?’ If companies start there, the path becomes clear, and then it’s simply a matter of filling in the important details.

What is key when it comes to preparing crisis situations?

For companies to build out a useful crisis preparedness plan, it is essential that they be honest with themselves about their vulnerabilities. That could involve self-reflection about some of their policies, internal complaints on employee conduct, or the right person to speak publicly on a given topic.

The point of crisis preparedness is to take the guesswork out of the equation when faced with a situation.

What do you foresee will change in the next year for crisis communication?

I think companies are going to be increasingly drawn into the political sphere even more than they are now. There will be no shortage of wedge issues drawn along party lines in the lead–up to the 2020 election. Businesses have a challenge before them as they often take measures to gain political influence through efforts like lobbying, but balk when they’re expected to take a side on a political issue.

Companies will increasingly have to factor this reality in the calculus of how they engage with both their public and the governmental entities that regulate them. Additionally, the media is programmed to demand companies pick a side to reinforce their conflict narratives. What follows is a tremendous amount of pressure on brands to venture standard deviations outside of their core business into the political fray. This will continue to be a challenge beyond 2020, but expect a fever pitch in the days ahead.

 

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