A Polish Public Relations Crisis ... the Need for a Clear and Consistent Message Is Poorly Understood Inside Many Companies

Article excerpt

Companies in the West mostly take it for granted that they have to share information about themselves if they want to survive and flourish. But in 'transition' economies like Poland, where democratic institutions and free market conventions are still relatively new, communication strategies tend to be poorly executed or even nonexistent. In part, businesses lack the technical know how; more fundamentally the very idea of visibility and transparency remains culturally obscure.

Multinational companies in Poland have, not surprisingly, introduced standard public relations and crisis management procedures of the kind found elsewhere. PR managers in such businesses undergo regular training and are instructed in the art of communicating with the media. But many local organisations in both the public and the private sectors seem to have missed this important area in the accelerated managerial adjustment taking place ahead of Polish accession to the European Union.

The point is illustrated by a telephone survey of several chemical industry companies in Poland undertaken 18 months ago. The sector was chosen because of its potential for crises like accidents and environmental damage. The respondents contacted were specifically not from Marketing or PR Departments as the researcher was curious to find out how aware ordinary employees are of risky situations and what they might communicate to stakeholders about their company, notably to the media, in a time of crisis. Receptionists and technicians were among those interviewed.

The researcher introduced himself and then asked each one to help him make an 'enlightened decision'. He was looking to swap apartments and in return for his Warsaw flat was offered a place in the vicinity of the plant in question. He claimed he was allergic to chemical waste and fumes and wanted to find out more about pollution levels in the area. No respondent hesitated to offer exhaustive--often naively direct--explanations of the quality of the air and the likelihood of accidents near the plant. Some of the answers were disarmingly open (e.g. "If accidents happen, they usually occur inside the plant ..."):

"... yes, accidents did happen here, it's all because of rut and
negligence. But there were other causes too."

"Well, I can't tell you exactly but to be honest there are all sorts of
fumes and dust here ..."

"Well, what do you expect: where there is chemical production there's
chemical waste ..."

Clearly most respondents were unaware of the embarrassment they might have caused their employer because of the way they articulated their thoughts (irrespective of the circumstances and conditioning that shaped them in the first place). …