A world of crisis - what is the role of PR?
In 1865 Abraham Lincoln said, “We live in the midst of alarms, anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read”.
We need only reflect on recent national and world events to recognise that this statement is true now on a global scale. Crises are not a rarity, but a real probability. In this environment, preparation and flexibility are a business’ keys to survival.
Crises come in many forms, but three elements are common to most examples: a threat to the organisation, the element of surprise, and a short decision time.
Consider that during the last 12 months businesses in Australasia have been acutely affected by floods, earthquakes, fires, cyclones, terrorism, economic volatility, technology failures, industrial strike action, protest demonstrations and product failures. How would your organisation manage the effects of a natural disaster, accident, or serious offence?
Some recent examples offer insight into crisis communications pitfalls and successes.
BP had an immense crisis on their hands with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. BP’s communications were criticised when CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, made a number of public gaffes that brought the company’s scruples into question and compounded damage to public perception of the brand. This example demonstrates that flawed public relations management can exacerbate problems far beyond those immediately associated with the tangible aspects of a crisis.
In a very different scenario Queensland Premier Anna Bligh provided strong and steady leadership during the floods that swept across Queensland in 2010/2011. Bligh took charge of the response team from the outset, consistently had the latest facts to hand, and presented with the right mix of resolve and sincerity. Her performance during the disaster was widely applauded for supporting morale among Queensland residents, and securing significant aid from Australian and international bodies.
Communications staff who have sufficient crisis management training provide a crucial service to their employer in the event of a crisis. An organisation’s public relations function is instrumental before, during and after the event. PR people should be ready to fulfil key responsibilities in crisis planning and preparation, media relations, spokesperson duties, policy advice, reputation management, and stakeholder management. A successful combination of these activities will minimise the negative impacts suffered by an organisation in crisis. This approach supports stability in share prices, realistic stakeholder expectations, staff morale and retention, and sustained public confidence in the organisation’s brand.
Preparing for crisis is paramount, and it’s important to remember that the best outcomes cannot be attained without a crisis plan and trained crisis managers to control response and recovery.
Ask yourself, am I crisis ready and are my communications staff crisis ready? It’s not a matter of IF but WHEN will a crisis of some magnitude strike you or your organisation.
How prepared is your team to handle a crisis? We offer a range of crisis training, planning, and testing services; Click here to get in touch with our team today.
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