How communicators can prevent corporate denial in a crisis
On March 31 2010, BP was the UK’s biggest company. Six months later, it has lost around one third of its value. In 2009, Toyota was the world’s eighth most valuable brand according to Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands” league table. 2010’s league table shows that Toyota has slipped to eleventh having lost 16% of its brand value.
The message is clear. Crises can affect any business at any time: size, success or reputation do not make any business immune. And the figures show that they can have a seismic impact on business performance and reputation; recovery is possible but damage is very real and often severe.
Much has been written by commentators about the crisis management lessons to be learned from the Toyota and BP episodes (not least on this blog!). Now that the dust has finally begun to settle, I wanted to pinpoint factors common to both BP and Toyota. But more than this, I want to suggest practical steps that communicators and PR people can take to help avoid the same fate at their organisations.
The first major problem was that both Toyota and BP seemed to be caught unaware by the nature and scale of their crises, and retreated into denial during the early stages of crisis escalation.
Actions for communicators to avoid this:
Conduct regular reputational risk assessments – go beyond operational risks and think like journalists, pressure groups and customers to reveal the true scope of reputational risk
Keep your ear to the ground – listening to stakeholders on and off-line is an essential early warning device; engaging with them can defuse early-stage incidents before they explode
Be a devil’s advocate – take an external perspective: does the reality and culture of the business match up to the rhetoric? If not, challenge and contribute to a process of alignment
Communications professionals are not (always) conjurers, so we can’t magic away every crisis. But, by following these steps, we can have a material effect on crisis prevention and mitigation.
In our next blog we’ll take a look at the second key factor in the BP and Toyota crises, and the communicator’s role in addressing it.
- Jonathan Hemus, Insignia Communications
- Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jhemusinsignia
Tagged Under: BP BP oil spill communications Corporate reputation management crisis communications Crisis management crisis preparedness effective communication Issues management Reputation management risk assessment Risk communication Risk management Toyota
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