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Crisis comms must have sound foundations

October, 2011

Excellent communication with customers, stakeholders and investors is central to good crisis management – and undoubtedly a truism. But too often now, poor comms delivery is being used as a smokescreen to avoid addressing much more serious business issues, believes Delphine Houlton, Account Director at Maxim.

Two cases that immediately spring to mind are Northern Ireland’s water crisis, and BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, whose operational frailties were once again in the spotlight thanks to a damning report by the U.S National Oil Spill Commission.

However much capacity you invest in your call centre or website, no PR or crisis management comms will overcome underlying problems in the business – be it faulty or inadequate equipment, health and safety lapses, or not enough people on the ground to undertake repairs. Silk purses and sows’ ears spring to mind.

Public relations and reputation management strategies are essential for all businesses as are sturdy and reliable communications channels. But they have to be based on solid business and service delivery credentials – otherwise they are just spin. The basis of all company comms and Corporate Social Responsibility policies must surely be honesty.

Furthermore, allowing blame to fall on the provisions made by the comms team or the personal style of the company spokesman compounds the problems. This approach may deflect attention away from the underlying issues for a short while but they will soon return. Then the business will have yet another round of issues to address and public sympathy may well rest with the fall guy further depleting the company’s reputation.

Drawing up crisis management communications plans is all about checking out that the operational facts and figures are known and that the operational systems work.

It is briefing spokespeople with adequate information and enabling them to be honest about the situation and the difficulties their customers and clients will face and what is being done to address them.

Finally, it is time for all spokespeople to stop using the phrase “lessons have been learned…”. Unfortunately for us all, so many have claimed to have learned lessons in the past, as the archive newsclips keep on reminding us, but strangely the same situation has arisen – again and again.

posted in: advice, media relations, public relations, reputation management,

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