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Crisis Communications can’t be effectively done w/o Risk Assessment, Crisis Team Management, and Early Sentiment Detection. Sometimes it shouldn’t be done, at all.

May 6, 2018    I   A. Bruce Crawley

With all of the recent examples of large corporate reputation damage, related big-ticket losses of share value and consumer loyalty, “crisis communications” has risen to unprecedented levels of prominence as a service provided by public relations practitioners.


Another digital systems breach? Allegations of gender, racial, disability, or other institutional biases? Unexpectedly low quarterly earnings reports? Unhealthy foods discovered at a brand’s super markets or quick-food chains? Sexual harassment claims against corporate, institutional or religious leaders?


All of these and many more, in our current 24-hour news cycle/social media-driven environment, we are told, can lead to negative awareness among members of key audiences, and can morph, more quickly than “overnight,” into full-blown crisis mode.


Should high-profile individuals, institutions and corporate entities care? At the end of the day, aren’t media and online crises just short-term phenomena that get quickly forgotten in the next news cycle? Shouldn’t victims of these types of lurid and sensational coverages be simply advised to wait them out?


The answer is yes...and no.


On the one hand, a poll taken among 1900 people, a few days following the infamous United Airlines “passenger-dragging Incident,” found nearly 80 percent of respondents saying they would subsequently choose a non-United airline. United, clearly, would have been ill-advised to wait that incident out.


Even more ominous, an examination of 100 high-profile crisis management situations by FTI Consulting found that 23 percent of the affected companies never recovered their pre-crisis share values and 14 percent actually went out of business. 


Many years ago, CEOs used to believe that such levels of negative corporate impact could only result from legal liability and costs related thereto. Overwhelming evidence of the quantifiable, negative impact of media-related crises, however, is expanding C-Suite-level consciousness of the potential downsides of poorly managed crisis communications. Accordingly, many are adding chief communications counsel positions near the top of org charts that formerly only included executive management-level line managers, CIOs and chief legal counsel.


Even so, as most reluctant crisis communications users might argue, all crises really are not created equal. Most times, the public doesn’t engage with an issue with the same level of intensity or outrage that news reporters, pundits or bloggers do. In fact, brands’ greatest new fear, that their own negative story will “go viral,” is substantially mitigated by the findings in a recent MIT study that disclosed that the odds of a story actually “going viral,” in an era in which there are 5 billion daily Facebook posts and 500 million tweets, are about one in a million.


Suspecting that may be the case, many brands are willing to take the risk of avoiding the management time commitment and cost of becoming effectively prepared for crisis management.


On the other, smarter hand, companies that have done appropriate levels of strategic risk assessment, that have established strong internal crisis management teams, that have identified metrics for measuring brand-related negative sentiment and have incorporated effective early detection systems for tracking potential negative sentiment shifts, will be the best judges of when it may be appropriate to mobilize their internal and external crisis communications apparatus. They’ll also be best situated to determine whether it may, indeed, be better to simply wait out what may be a brief, relatively innocuous, negative media flirtation with their brands.


Without having such prior planning in place, and a periodically updated crisis plan “on the shelf,” brands may not be appropriately prepared to launch the crisis communications plan they think they need, or even recognize whether they need to implement it, at all.


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A. Bruce Crawley is president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc. (M3M). Read More...

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