Magazine article Marketing

How to Face Crises with Confidence

Magazine article Marketing

How to Face Crises with Confidence

Article excerpt

A factory blows up, a vandal spikes some products on a supermarket shelf. Nobody plans crises. But the best-prepared companies plan hear to contain them. Chris Woodcock lays down some ground rules

Every week, hundreds of companies face complex decisions on handling emergencies -- crisis events which could perhaps irrevocably damage corporate reputations and undo overnight decades of high investment in brand and image building.

With stakes running into billions of pounds, there can be no argument as to the importance of effective crisis-management procedures. Yet, in spite of the growing media, governmental and public focus on health, safety and the environment, too few companies seem to be willing to accept that they're potentially at risk.

Crisis-management professionals -- public relations and management consultancies in the main -- insist theirs is a vital area of corporate responsibility which should be given the highest priority. Too often, the professionals say, the message falls on deaf ears-or the response is to delegate to operational staff to produce the obligatory "crisis manual". So, when crisis hits, it's "panic and hope", rather than controlled and skillful management of a series of events.

The central theme of crisis and issues management is effective communications with external audiences. Through this process it's possible to change crisis perceptions from blame and ineptitude to honesty, responsibility, and integrity.

To do so requires planning agreed strategies, and laying preparations for their efficient execution. This in turn demands the instantly available support of both internal staff and external crisis specialists. Urgency of response is vital: the first hours of a breaking crisis are most crucial.

It's important in planning stages to recognise the cyclical nature of crisis management. Like most good business disciplines, it requires continuous commitment to training, test exercises, simulations, and constant improvement of response.

In the broadest marketing sense, all areas of commercial activity are potential subjects of a crisis situation, but recent political and royal affairs have demonstrated in vivid detail that crisis may strike anywhere, at any time. The important word here is potential; if you accept that your business may at some stage be faced with a crisis situation, you are more likely to act to prevent, control or manage any incident -- which places you far ahead of the "it-can't-happen-to-us" philosophy.

The most recognisable forms of crises, which can arise in varying degrees of severity, will include:

* Disaster or catastrophe, often involving loss of life by explosions, terrorist acts, fires, and by motorway, aviation, railway and shipping accidents -- or the whims of nature!

* Product recall due to faulty or tampered-with products

* Extortion and blackmail

* Redundancy, factory closure

* Animal-rights attacks and pressure from environmental groups

* Impending legislation or legal challenge

* Professional misconduct

Quantifiable facts or figures covering crisis management aren't freely available. No one can say with any certainty how often crisis occurs in any sector, or at what cost. Not surprisingly, most companies have proved to be reluctant to reveal experiences which could help competitors eager to gain market share at the expense of a stricken rival.

Where statistics can be traced they give only a disparate insight into crisis impact. The financial cost of the Piper Alpha oil-rig disaster, for example, has been estimated at [pounds]1.4bn. And within the EC, there are an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 deaths each year reportedly caused by food and product-related illness and injuries.

It could be argued that "successful" crises are those that pass unnoticed, or barely noticed, by external audiences. When one does go without external ruffling, it will inevitably be the execution of a professional crisis and issues management programme that has saved the day. …

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