Can you imagine what would happen if the United States Government were to shut down? A government shutting down is one of many types of crisis that can occur in an organization. Without crisis management an issue that has been smoldering over can turn into a major catastrophe for any organization. Crisis management is important because if an organization mishandles a crisis it could ruin the organization’s reputation and legitimacy.
To begin with, Fishman defines a crisis as “an unpredictable event which threatens important organizational values and which creates pressure for a timely response requiring effective communication (Zaremba 2010). Crises can involve people, products, services, and safety to name a few. No two crises are alike and they should all be handled on a case to case basis. The severity of a crises depends on the response time the organization addresses the crises.
For starters, all organizations should have a crises management committee. This committee would ideally be in charge of planning for any potential crises and how the organization would handle the crises. The committee would create a crisis communication plan including securing commitment from top management to be open and honest during crises, establishing a crises communication team, brainstorming regarding crises, identifying stakeholder’s and message preparation, choosing methods for communication messages, message sequencing, identifying a spokesperson ad establishing a communication center, recording the plan, simulation and coaching, and periodic updating (Zaremba 2010). The committee would also be responsible for preventing any future crises. Planning and preventing crises are important because crises can result in the generation of employee rumors, plummeting stock values, a lack of employee confidence, and a reduction in consumer trust (Zaremba 2010). Also, not preparing for a crises can leave an organization like a pig waiting to be slaughtered when a crises occurs.
To explain, when an organization has a crises plan they are better equipped to handle a crises when it occurs. When an organization has prepared for crises all they have to do is work their crises plan when crises occur. There is also a consistent message that is given to the public and rate of misinformation is significantly lower.
To make matters worse, social media has created new crises and ways to respond to crises. In generations before, an event would occur, a public relations officer would draft a response plan, that PIO would then deliver a press release to the media, and then the media would inform the public. Now, due to social media, within seconds of an event occurring images and eyewitness statements are circulating around the globe (Baron, 2011). Social media has changed crises management because organizations are forced to reply to crises within minutes of the crises happening. Before it would take days before news of crises occurring reached the public, and organizations could prepare their message. Now, organizations have minutes before the world becomes aware of a crises and demands answers immediately.
Preparing and preventing crises are two simple steps to crises management. If crises has already occurred an organization response is not only necessary but required. The key parts to any crisis response is to be honest and truthful. An organization can only “spin” crises for so long before the truth comes out and the organization loses its legitimacy and public trust. When an organization is honest and accepts responsibility, even if they weren’t at fault, the public is more likely to forgive and forget.
Let’s suppose an organization has already experienced crises or is trying to recover from one. This is what Tylenol had to do in the early 80’s when seven people died after taking pain-relief capsules that had been poisoned. Benoit’s Image Restoration Theory asserts that when an organization loses legitimacy, it can restore its image by the use of symbols. Benoit’s 4 R’s of image restoration are reputation, relationships, responsibility, and response (Zaremba, 2010). Organizations can respond to crises using a variety of methods. For example, when responding to crises an organization can attack, bolster, deny, or minimize the crises.
To add on to, the in class activity really drove home the central points of crisis communication. When the activity first started out all of the different departments were working in silos. When a crisis occurred that didn’t immediately affect my department we remained out of communication because we thought that it didn’t affect us. This is what happens in many organizations today. Because one group doesn’t think that they have a stake in the crisis they remain at the side lines. It’s not until the crisis affects their departments that they care to show interest in the crisis. This is what the class did during our crises. Although we started off working independently as more and more information came out about the crises the more and more we started working together. What started off as 5 groups spread out across the room turned into one big group circle in the center of the room. I feel that we handled the crises effectively. The main strategies we used were being honest with students and parents in our communications and forming spokespersons for each department.
Reflecting back on everything, some key lessons for other communication practitioners managing crises are to always be honest, have a crisis communication plan in place, and know who needs to receive what information through which medium. First, no matter how much you can spin a lie the truth will ultimately come out, and if you are found to have been lying then you can lose more legitimacy than you would have if you had told the truth from the beginning. Second, it was once said that “Nothing ever goes according as planned, but without plans you are doomed to fail.” The key to crises communication is being prepared and working the plan you have developed when crises occurs. Lastly, you need to be able to identify your key stake holders and what type of message they will receive, keeping in mind that you want to
Zaremba, A. (2010). Organizational communication. (3rd ed., pp. 233-253). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Church, E., & Friesen, J. (2013, 11 05). Toronto mayor rob ford apologizes, but will not step down, after admitting to smoking crack cocaine . Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/rob-ford-councillors/article15263319/
Baron, G. (Producer) (2011). Social media & crisis comm: A whole new game [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFt7NXDhcmE