CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND THE BLAME GAME

Posted in Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Implementation, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, The Blame Game on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

Over time, crisis management pundits have considered many types of responses to a crisis and have sometimes recommended actions and reactions that today seem out of step with effective solutions for most crisis situations. These out-of-step solutions fall into two categories: 1) stonewall the media and the issue will eventually die without you fueling the topic; and 2) a strong defense is a good offense, namely attack the accuser, deny the issue or point the finger elsewhere.

In today’s media jungle, stories don’t die. If something doesn’t pass the smell test, someone in the media is going to pursue it. Ignoring a crisis by ignoring the media doesn’t cut it. And if the media doesn’t pick up on an issue, the public certainly will, via Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter or some other yet to be invented faster-than-light communications vehicle.

In times of crisis most corporate managements would prefer to avoid the limelight, deal with its issues, solve its problems and escape negative publicity. Understandable, but dealing with a major crisis like an ostrich is terribly risky and makes a company look like it’s not owning up when the crisis is exposed.  

So let’s assume you are willing and able to deal head-on with the public. Most senior executives are used to being in control. They pull the levers, call the shots and aren’t used to being told what to do. There is a tendency to be defensive. “I nurtured this baby, I grew it and I know how to defend it”.  The reaction often lacks finesse. Instead of appearing open, the reaction is authoritarian. Instead of appearing honest, the reaction is defensive and oftentimes gravitates towards the blame game or, just as bad, the rationalization or justification game. 

All of these “public” reactions can hurt your organization, because you will have missed the point. There is a problem. Acknowledge it. The problem has ramifications. Acknowledge them. No one is interested in finger-pointing or excuses, even if you are correct. There is time for that.  Don’t act like the whiney school kid or the weasel that can’t or won’t take responsibility. The public expects companies and organizations to man-up. Period. Man-up and get moving so the problem can be fixed. The public respects organizations (and their spokespersons) that emanate competence and authority.

When BP went to Capital Hill to testify back in May, 2010 they were joined by Halliburton and Transocean, Ltd., two of BP’s subcontractors. All three looked foolish because of the finger pointing and denial that ensued. What to do?  Act like a responsible citizen whether you are at fault or not.  A responsible citizen acknowledges the problem and positions itself to take whatever action it can to help fix it. It investigates and determines the best course of action based on its expertise. The public needs to know you are responsible citizen. You convey that when you take immediate, competent action.

But what if you are not to blame? If you aren’t, good for you. It will come out in the end but as an immediate step the public needs to know that you recognize yourself as a player with a role, and that you willingly undertake that role for the public good. Expensive? Perhaps. Worth it. Most often a resounding yes, in terms of public perception and goodwill. If you are to blame the same holds true. Your legal team and your insurance advisors may have made it clear that you cannot say anything that admits culpability. Even so you can act as the same responsible corporate citizen as you would if you were not to blame. You can act sensitively, you can investigate and you can devote whatever resources you have to help fix the problem and keep the public informed regularly along the way.

Preserving your reputation and directing your efforts to problem-solving are the first order of business. Assessing blame comes later and is best left to third parties. No one ever looks good saying it is someone else’s fault. An insurance investigation, a public hearing, a regulatory investigation, a private investigation that is made public are just some of the opportunities you have to provide input to show the root causes of a crisis. Let a neutral source absolve you of blame. In the end it carries far more weight, and is more persuasive and acceptable.

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BP’s TROUBLES

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Communication Implementation, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning on May 18th, 2010 by admin

When it rains, it pours. So many crises involving nature. Volcanic ash. Bubbling oil. I have very strong hopes that the earth doesn’t crack open. Disasters of this nature make one feel that protecting a corporate reputation is not all that important in the total scheme of things. But protecting a reputation is very important – as long as the entity being protected is worthy of the effort.

BP in general has manned-up. It has acknowledged its responsibility (at least in part). It has gone before the public almost daily it seems in order to give status reports. It is trying many different schemes to cap the oil gushing into the Gulf. Yet, it is the butt of jokes and is not coming off as a responsible corporate citizen. Something is lacking. Read more »

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SOME COMPANIES GET IT

Posted in Crisis Communication Success Stories, Crisis Management Success Stories on March 25th, 2010 by admin
I just received a new credit card in the mail. This is not unusual in itself but it is from my current credit card company – Bank of America, not one of my favorite institutions if truth be told. What is remarkable is that it is a card to replace my existing one that is not nearing expiration.
A very nice letter accompanied the card explaining that since BofA suspected that my card’s security had been compromised, they were cancelling it and substituting this new card. All terms and conditions remained the same.
Here is a company that determined a potential problem and did something about it. Proactive. It had to have cost them to do it. A cynic may say, yes, but it could have cost them more if they hadn’t done anything. True, but oftentimes it is difficult for an organization to bite the bullet, rather than wait it out. Taking no action can be kind of comfortable. So regardless of whether BofA took action that was for its own benefit, kudos for stepping up. But wait, there’s more.
Responsible action must be contagious within BofA. They just announced publicly that they would be forgiving the mortgage debt of some distressed borrowers. Could this actually be? Only time will tell but again BofA has gone on the offensive and is looking good. It would be a mistake if this is nothing more than a hollow PR gambit but time will tell. If it is, the bank takes a huge risk that they will look untruthful undermining its precarious public perception even more.
There have been a couple of other crisis management initiatives that have come to my attention that I think warrant applause. My own hometown was hit by a severe Nor’easter a couple of weeks ago. Trees were down everywhere. Many main and secondary roads were impassable (including mine – I couldn’t drive out of my street due to a fallen tree across the road). And over one-half of all homes in town were without electricity.
I’ve lived in the same house in the same town for over twenty years. Electric power delivery has always been dicey. Early on I lost electricity several times and finally, fed up, I wrote to the local newspaper complaining that I had moved from a third world country that had better electric power delivery than I was now receiving. Over the years some of the transformers and other gizmos have been updated and service has been acceptable, if not perfect. When the storm hit I shuddered to think what we were in for. But Connecticut Light & Power went to work. Crews were imported from other states. Every household was given updated Code Red alerts via the town’s emergency network, CL&P kept information flowing regularly and even went out on a limb and stated that 99% of the power would be restored by a certain date and hour. At the time, this forecast seemed far-fetched given the amount of damage and clean-up necessary just to get access to the wires. Yet, they did it! The company made an extraordinary effort, kept the public informed and, in my eyes at least, achieved a reputation as a first class public utility. I have only one suggestion. It would have been helpful for citizens to know what areas of town were scheduled for work on what days, and times, so homeowners could plan ahead, remove stuff from their freezers, get a hotel room etc. Barring that, nice job CL&P.
I received a rather personal letter from my cable company. Strange. I always get solicitations for the Triple Play – Internet, TV and telephone, but no, this was a kind of apology. The company thanked me for being a customer! They said they were sorry for inconveniencing me while they argued over programming fees with certain networks. They said they were sorry that there were interruptions in providing the Food Network, HGTV, and ABC (for the first 45 minutes of the Oscar presentations). Of course, they blamed everything on the greedy networks for trying to gauge the cable company instead of attempting to reduce costs, but hey, everyone has a different perspective. The thing is that the cable company tried to explain its side and did a credible job of it.
So congratulations to BofA, CL&P, and Cablevision for recognizing a crisis, handling it competently, and communicating to their respective stakeholders in a manner that has been straight-forward and not particularly self-serving, although self-serving communication, when deserved, is just fine.
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PLANNING FOR POST CRISIS MITIGATION

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Crisis Communication Planning, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Crisis Management Response, Crisis Management Strategy on March 23rd, 2010 by admin
No one can anticipate exactly what kind of crisis may befall your organization. Nevertheless there are many things that can be done – let’s call them generic – that will extremely helpful if and when the day comes that you need to call out the troops. And that is precisely the first step.
Assemble a team. Naturally, you have to assemble people who are trustworthy, loyal and competent. You may find that certain employees fit the bill while others are doubtful. You are not limited to employees. You most likely have relied on the services of outside people – people who have been your organization’s kitchen cabinet – throughout the years. Lawyers, accountants, marketing and public relations people, former employees who have gone out on their own. Shake the tree and you’ll be surprised who can be helpful.
Next, prioritize your needs. Who are the technical people available to fix the most likely problems? Who are the ones most capable of immediate fact-finding? These are the people who need to be mobilized quickly in order to isolate and address the most immediate concerns. Who are the individuals who can set up a document management system, document the issues, preserve evidence, research and fact-find and make information available to the very top. Finally, who are those who will speak for the organization. A communications strategy is a must. Generally speaking there is one spokesperson, perhaps with a backup individual. Information from the technical people and the document management people have to flow to the communicators who must be fully informed. Legal specialists and public relations personnel round out the communications team.
Communications is the key to effective crisis management. Of course, an organization’s problems need to be solved. But just as important, the public needs to know what the problems are, and what you are doing about them. The day of “no comment” is over. In fact it is long gone. Whether it’s Toyota or the local public utility, communications strategy is largely the same. An organization must be quick or else others will set the agenda and you will always be on the defensive. An organization must be proactive otherwise it will always be reactive. Openness and honesty coupled with the most up-to-date facts constitute good communications strategy. Staying on message, taking bold action to protect the public or making its needs paramount generally rule the day, regardless of whether you have been totally successful. Best intentions and extraordinary efforts are very often held in high regard by the public, especially when communicated regularly, clearly and openly.
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