Posted on April 2nd, 2012
When it comes to the health of an organization’s relationships with its publics, few things can have as great an impact as a crisis. While it’s impossible to prepare for every possible scenario, in this chapter on threats to a company’s reputation, Paine stresses the importance of having a crisis communication plan in place before a crisis occurs in addition to providing some tips for managing a crisis as it occurs.
Trust is the foundation for a company’s reputation. It is a component of relationships that is complex and multi-dimensional; it takes a long time to build but is destroyed very quickly. Trust must be fostered on many levels long before an incident even occurs—both among the various levels of an organization and between it and its publics (stakeholders, the community, the media, etc.).
Hon and Grunig found that the main dimensions of trust are perceived competence, integrity, and dependability. Essentially, people have to trust that a company can and will do what it says it will. Overall, PR researchers have come to the conclusion that honesty and transparency are most beneficial in a crisis. This aligns with Grunig’s crisis period principles of accountability and disclosure (p. 164).
In terms of measuring crises, there are three key elements: what is being said, what people believe, and what people do. All three must be monitored because it is not always the case that what the public says and believes about a company translates to a negative impact on its bottom line.
Well-managed crises are dealt with aggressively early on, resulting in less fallout and lingering negative coverage. However, as Paine shows with examples such as Columbia/HCA Healthcare (p. 169), denial and obfuscation when a company actually is responsible for the crisis has a lasting impact on its reputation and its profits. To measure what publics believe about an organization, Paine suggests conducting overnight polling with key audiences during a crisis. This data can help “to calm down executives and [enable] the company to make rational decisions to deal with the crisis (p.170)”.
The main thing to remember is that preparation is key. Define what “surviving” a crisis means quantitatively and qualitatively ahead of time, prioritize various publics and tailor communication channels accordingly, and be vigilant about monitoring conversations. In the age of social media, companies must be ready to respond instantly.