What constitutes a public relations crisis? In a world of disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis, crises means threat to human life and peaceful living when the same word is used in the world of business it means an emergency that is usually unexpected but can be anticipated.
One of the most recent and popular examples of such a crisis is the discovery of dangerous level of MSG and lead in Maggi Noodles which is one of the most favourite and popular snack amongst Indian families. The point of discussion here is how a company (in this case Nestle) should have prepared plan in order to protect its reputation.
It is important at this point to understand where a public relations crisis fits into within the life cycle. Every brand like every living being is prone to risk. A risk can at anytime turn into an issue. An issue not nipped in the bud turns into a public relations crisis and a public relations crisis not well managed turns into a disaster. In the case of Maggi Noodles, the risk of being pulled up was always there. The risk became graver when the first time a health inspector pulled up samples in a remote town in the state of Uttar Pradesh last year. That risk turned into an issue eventually and when word got out and social media as well as mainstream media began to focus on the product containing unhealthy substances in high quantity the company remained silent. In a matter of days the brand was destroyed leading to a complete product recall.
While there are no set rules and every situation has to be handled in a different manner, there are a few general steps that one may follow while handling crisis communications. I was fortunate enough to attend one of public relations crisis workshops conducted by Ms. Charlotta Lagerdahl-Gandolfo, Regional Business Director, MSLGROUP Asia three years ago on managing crises and here is a summary of few things I learnt:
It is very important for a company to able to anticipate an upcoming public relations crisis and prepare themselves thoroughly. Whether or not they have been able to prepare themselves for the future critical situation, they should be able to identify and analyse it properly, once it is there. Recognising the problem correctly is the key to rectifying it. A crisis preparedness manual is not an option.
In the age of social networks, conversations are not one-way anymore. Customers have various platforms via which they communicate with brands and express their views freely in public. An organisation facing the public relations crisis situation should monitor these conversations thoroughly and prepare themselves for tough questions accordingly. A company and its spokespeople cannot deliver effective communication until they are well-versed with conversations that are already taking place on a public platform.
There are countless examples of brands getting doomed because they kept mum during a public relations crisis situation. The most important action a brand should take during a public relations crisis situation is to communicate. Even if they are not prepared with an answer they should at least communicate a time-frame by when they will be back with a response. It is essential for a brand to acknowledge the questions that are asked by its audience.
Once the public relations crisis situation is over the team should analyse methodically how effective their strategy was. If there was a change in general conversation of the public from when the public relations crisis started happening. They should also study how they could have done better to avoid the crisis altogether.
Handling a public relations crisis situation is one of the most exciting and challenging jobs to do. While it is a very crucial time for the team handling the public relations crisis situation it is also a work that shows quick results. One can measure the effectiveness or in-effectiveness of a strategy right after the situation is under control. With due diligence, method and discipline one can successfully overcome such a situation and come out with flying colors.
– Radhika Nandwani
Radhika is the Corporate Communications Advisor at Dell’s Performance Analytics Group. She started her career in 2011, with one of the leading public relations firms of India – MSLGROUP, specialising in technology brands. The campaigns executed by her while at MSL, have won several public relations industry awards including SABRE and PR Week Asia. In her last role, she was the founding team member and the marketing communications manager at SCoRe. Radhika is an English graduate and holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication. She loves reading and is passionate about gender equality, food and Bollywood. She can be reached at @RadhikaNandwani on Twitter and here on LinkedIn.