By Rimo Bose, PR and Branding Manager, TCL India.
January 11,2022: Irrespective of the quality of internal control processes, an organisation can find it challenging to avoid crisis altogether. Rather than trying to avoid them, a business should be ready to deal with them most effectively. It is difficult to effectively plan for a crisis in an organisational setup as they arise in a short period and trigger a feeling of threat and fear among stakeholders.
A great example is how Johnson & Johnson managed a crisis when seven people died by consuming its leading painkiller, Tylenol, due to poisoning from bottle tampering. Immediately after this incident, the company alerted consumers not to take the product and stopped its production. Soon, they made a comeback by launching the first triple-lock tamper-resistant container. The brand didn’t focus on short-term profit. In fact, through immediate and transparent response, Tylenol regained its market share, bringing the brand success in the long term.
Hence, the concept of crisis communications is crucial for any organisation. It refers to a dedicated wing that takes care of an organisation's reputation or brand whilst maintaining the public image. There could be several negative aspects, such as media enquiries, taxation or government-related issues, or any other factor that could potentially tarnish the image of an enterprise.
In the age of information technology and quick sharing of any newsworthy event, the decision-makers (of organisations) need to ensure that the process of crisis communications is given the respect it deserves. The most critical factors that support crisis communications in an enterprise are discussed in this article.
Increased uncertainty due to the pandemic
The 'new normal' brought by the pandemic results from the disruption of longstanding communication systems between individuals, families, and businesses worldwide. There is a struggle to adapt to the rapid changes in the external environment related to work and lifestyle.
Employees have been displaced, and the schooling schedules of their children have been affected. There is a fear of new variants and their ability to bring fatal waves, causing anxiety among all societies. Hence, crisis communications are important to ensure that a unified message can address emotional disruption, disenfranchised workers and other stakeholders.
HR Policies: Retrenchments and layoffs by enterprises
There has been a significant change in the HR policies of companies representing major sectors within the economy in the recent past. In the context of a few core industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality, the layoff rate was 13%, and around 58% of the total employees received a pay cut.
Similar trends were depicted on a macro level when the total unemployment rates in the urban area surpassed the 20% limit. People who are out of work due to such reasons could be extremely frustrated with how they are treated and could blame the entire thing on the company's management. A crisis communications team is required to ensure that any such rants or outrage of disgruntled former employees could be managed effectively.
Era of outrage and nothing goes unnoticed
This is an era of outrage. Due to social media and ultra-fast ways of communications and data transfer, there is nothing that is completely private and can remain unnoticed for a long time. Recently, the news of a CEO firing 900 employees on a Zoom call had surfaced and created havoc on social media.
Even a tiny defensive action by an enterprise (such as reducing CSR expense) or decisions related to products or services could be presented in a negative manner. Hence, crisis communications should always be ready to take corrective actions to reduce damage caused to a company's image by such factors.
Online reputation is easily and quickly affected
In the era of social media and information technology, online reputation is easily tarnished. People often share negative news about an established brand at a greater pace than against any positive developments made by the same brand. This is a normal human tendency.
Since the online image is important to ensure that a search engine query should not provide negative updates about an organisation, the decision-makers should promote crisis communications most effectively. There can be campaigns or vendetta against a company that aims to tarnish an enterprise's goodwill. However, the effort of the PR teams should be to ensure that crisis communication methodologies are adopted and implemented in the most effective manner possible to address any such attempts (genuine or targeted).
To sum up, crisis planning and communication plans are vital for companies that are aware of their reputations, and since the external environment is quite volatile in the current scenario, it is imperative that this aspect should be given enough importance to ensure the long-term growth of an organisation.