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Business Continuity - The Art of Crisis Communication, lies on truth?

Posted on April 28, 2017 in Articles


A crisis is an abnormal situation which threatens the operations, reputation and stakeholders of an organization and normally came along with adverse media attention. The instances of such situations can be ranging from legal exposure, natural disaster, fraud or espionage that could be endorsed to the organization. Likewise, the crisis can also be any situation where in the perception of media and general public, the organization did not respond to a situation in the suitable and appropriate method.

About 2 weeks ago, one of the world largest airline operators - United Airlines was facing media uproar and intense scrutiny after a passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight. The incident was recorded and uploaded online and the apology from their CEO which came too little too late knocking off close to USD1 billion off the company's market value.

Do you think they could react to the situation better if more information is available? This definition is not all encompassing but rather is designed to give you an idea for the types of situations where you may need to follow this plan. If handled correctly the damage can be minimized.

One of the most important factors to remind ourselves that is during a crisis is tell it all, tell it fast and tell no lie. These can assure your organization to minimize the impact of the situation. When a situation arises, the first thing you should be doing is contacting the top management and the chief of the organization’s public relations department. The sooner you can get in touch with these two parties involved, the sooner your organization can implement a business continuity plan. Based on ISO 22301:2012 clause 8.4, an organization shall establish an appropriate internal and external communications protocol within its business continuity procedure to manage a disruptive incident and continue its prioritized activities. Crisis communication shall assist the organization in alerting interested parties potentially impacted by an actual or impending disruptive incident as well as assuring the interoperability of multiple responding organizations and personnel.

Forming Crisis Communication Team is essential to identify what actions should be taken. The team should be comprised of individuals who are subjected to the situation. They should include as a minimum the CEO, the chief of Public Relations, the Vice President, the Senior manager from the division in charge of the area that was involved in the situation that has brought about the crisis, the safety and/or security officer, the organization Lawyer, and anyone else who might be able to shed some light on the situation such as eye witnesses.
The job of this team is to come up with a plan of action and decide who the spokesperson should be.

Once the crisis communication team is formed, the roles, responsibilities and accountability of the members on the team shall be established and communicated. In addition to the crisis communication team the Public Relations or Communications department should be supplemented with competent people who can answer phones and if required escort media. Promptly responding to the media is another key factor to avoid unnecessary speculation. Thus, a pre-determined press statement should be ready and given to the person in charge. This statement should be something such as "Facts are still being gathered but there will be a press conference before 4:00, give me your name and number and I will call you back to let you know when."

One of the first responsibilities of the crisis communication team should be to determine the appropriate positioning or message to address the emergency. Things to think about:
This is where "Tell it all, tell it fast and tell no lie" begins.

lies on truth

Honesty is the best policy, it is always best to admit it up front when a mistake is made. Start to establish and implement a business continuity plan to revive the credibility and confidence of internal and external interested parties. When the plan is in place, the organization will find it easy to accommodate the needs of relevant parties especially the media and reduce the legal exposure and the cost associated. There are many case studies based on real issues available for reference to establish an effective and comprehensive plan.

Bear in mind, the primary goal is to ensure the protection of the reputation and status of the organization.

Samsung launched its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7 to record preorders and sales in August 2016; however the fanfare start soon took a sharp downturn. Samsung had to initiate a recall in September in the same year of the first version of the Note 7 due to faulty batteries that overheated and exploded. A month later, it had to recall over 2 million devices and scrap the product. It was estimated that the recall would cost Samsung USD 5.3 billion. Recalling a product is never easy, and yielding returns of more than 30 percent is extremely challenging. Samsung aggressively told the media its goal was a 100% recall. Less than three months later, the company has reached a 96 percent return rate globally. Thanks to its swift action and initiative in telling the truth and admitting its problem, the organization’s customer base with over a billion people strong is still holding on to their Samsung phone. 

Never try to lie, deny or hide your involvement.

If you ignore the situation it will only get worse.

Lying is not part of the art of crisis communications. Media’s job is to uncover the truth, yet so many people seem to believe that if they lie their way out of the crisis, the problem will go away. It doesn’t work like that because journalists can smell a rat a mile away. It’s part of our training, experience, and intuition that was developed over the years.

So the next time a journalist asks you a question that you really don’t want to answer, think twice about the consequences of lying. If you’re up against experienced journalists, it won’t take long before your lies need more lies to support the story. When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the crisis explodes in your pants.

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