In the course of their operation, organizations in different economic sectors experience crisis emanating from various sources.
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Some of aspects that can lead to organizations experiencing crisis includes global economic recession, regulatory investigations by relevant authorities, occurrence of employee disputes and hostile takeover attempts. Crisis can adversely affect organizations’ performance and hence their long term survival if they are not adequately addressed (Coombs 2012).
In an effort to deal with crisis, one of the elements that organizations have integrated is crisis management. Coombs (2012) defines crisis management as the efforts undertaken by organizations’ management teams in mitigating the adverse effects arising from crisis.
Public relations is one of the most important elements in crisis management. Galloway and Kwanash-Aidoo (2005) asserts that the role of public relations is fundamental in supporting crisis managers’ deal with the crisis faced.
To gain sufficient understanding on the relationship between public relations and crisis management, this paper evaluates the role of that public relation plays in crisis management.
Crisis management stages
Heath (2005) asserts that crisis management is one of the essential elements in public relations. In the course of executing their duties, firms’ management teams should appreciate the fact that their organizations are susceptible to crisis. Consequently, it is imperative to ensure that they possess sufficient knowledge and skills in order to prepare for any eventuality.
To effectively undertake crisis management, it is essential for firms’ management team to understand what constitutes a crisis. Heath (2005) defines a crisis as ‘an unpredictable major threat that can have negative effects on the organization, stakeholders and industry’ (p. 218).
Crisis managers should be proactive in preventing disruptive effects arising from crisis. There are a number of steps that crisis managers should take into account in their crisis management processes. These steps include prevention, preparation and provision (Reid 2000).
The prevention stage is aimed at identifying the various risks that an organization faces. One of the techniques that organizations can integrate in their quest to identify the risks faced is conducting a comprehensive internal and external environmental analysis (Cutlip, Center & Broom 2006).
Risks can arise from various sources such as weather threats, violence, economic crisis and technology failures. Therefore, it is important for firms’ management team to adopt a systematic approach in their risk identification efforts. Through risk identification, an organization is able to implement effective measures that prevent the identified risk from degenerating into a crisis.
Despite this, some risks that firms experience in the course of their operation cannot be eliminated. An example of such risks includes mistakes committed by employees.
However, effective mitigation strategies can be integrated. One of the mitigation strategies that firms can adopt in such cases entails training and monitoring employees. By undertaking effective risk identification, organizational managers are able to formulate the most effective risk mitigation or reduction strategies.
According to Narasimha (2010), the prevention stage enables managers to recognize the fact that things can go wrong if the necessary measures are not implemented.
Narasimha (2010) asserts that crises are unpredictable but they are not unexpected. Consequently, it is important for organizational managers to be prepared on how to deal with crisis. Firstly, a basic crisis committee composed of the personnel manager, safety officer, chief executive officer and the public relations officer should be formed (Baines, Egan & Jefkins 2004).
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The preparation stage emphasizes the need for organizational managers to incorporate effective mechanisms to deal with the crisis. One of the most important elements that organizational managers should take into account when preparing for crisis entails development of a Crisis Management Plan (CMP). The CMP outlines the steps that should be taken into account when dealing with crisis.
The significance of developing a CMP lies in the fact that it aids in the process of collecting the necessary information to deal with the crisis. Additionally, the CMP is also important in the process of assigning responsibilities. By following the CMP, the amount of time required to deal with a crisis is reduced considerably.
Moreover, the preparation stage also aids in the process of developing the crisis management team. This arises from the fact that it incorporates the element of training. Other aspects that should be taken into account in the preparation stage include creating a crisis portfolio and establishment of a crisis communication system (Reid 2000).
Considering the fact that crises are unique, the CMP developed should be adaptive. Additionally, regular review of the project should be conducted in order to determine its applicability (Reid 2000).
The provision stage takes into account the how the crisis management team handles and communicates to the various stakeholders regarding the crisis. Information vacuity is created when a crisis occurs. Consequently, it is vital for the crisis manager to eliminate the vacuum.
One of the ways through which this can be attained is by collecting and communicating information regarding the crisis to all the stakeholders. The information collected during the provision stage is paramount in making decision on how to act to respond to the crisis.
Role of public relations in crisis management
Public relations play a significant role in crisis management. Consequently, most organizations are increasingly considering the most effective way to develop their effectiveness in public relations. The importance of public relations in crisis management arises from the adverse effects of crisis. For example, crisis can adversely affect organizations’ competitiveness and hence their long term survival by damaging firms corporate reputation.
Integrating effective public relations strategies can aid in redeeming organisations’ public image and reputation when faced by a crisis. This is well illustrated by the case of The Coca-Cola Company that launched Dasani water brand in 2004 in the United Kingdom (Ralph & Yeomans 2009).
However, controversies emerged when the media alleged that the firm was misleading consumers by selling tap water at exorbitant prices. Investigations conducted on the issue revealed that the firm’s purification factory had experienced a problem (Ralph & Yeomans 2009).
The bottles had come into contact with minerals that were potentially carcinogenic (can cause cancer).This forced the firm to recall all the water bottles it had distributed in the UK market (Kearns 2007).
Despite the seriousness of the crisis, The Coca Cola Company did not handle the crisis effectively. Lindgreen, Hingley and Vanhamme (2009) assert that Dasani’s spokes person in the UK portrayed poor crisis communication skills. The spokesperson did not provide optimal reply to questions asked by the media hence aggravating the situation.
The communication offered to stakeholders in the face of a crisis determines the perception that the public develops towards the firm (Devereux & Peirson-Smith 2011). Poor communication in the event of a crisis is further illustrated by the case of NASA.
Upon the explosion of the Challenger, NASA did not communicate openly with the media. The organization further confiscated press films captured by cameras positioned in around the launch area. This raised numerous questions about the organization (Ray 1999).
On the contrary, Toyota was very effective in handling the accelerator pedal crisis it faced. This was achieved by adopting effective crisis response strategies. One of the strategies that the firm incorporated related to crisis communication.
The firm ensured that the affected customers were continuously updated regarding the crisis. Toyota’s management team apologized formally to its customers. A comprehensive explanation on the crisis was provided. Additionally, the firm also explained the superior technology it implemented to improve the situation.
This played a significant role in restoring customer confidence. The manner in which Toyota Corporation handled the crisis highlights the importance of public relations practitioners being effective in their communication processes.
The 5Cs model of communication
According to Black (2012) public image and identity are very important in firms’ quest to develop competitive advantage. Public relations can enable an organisation to develop and maintain its corporate image. One of the ways through which they can achieve this is by developing their communication skills.
To effectively undertake public relations in crisis management, public relations practitioners should adopt the 5C’s principles of communication. The principles include concern, clarity, confidence, competence and control.
Public relation officers should be genuinely concerned about the crisis that their organization might be facing. Additionally, public relations officers should show concern towards the various stakeholders affected by the crisis. To effectively address the crisis, public relations officers should ensure that a high degree of clarity is incorporated in the communication process.
On the other hand, the public relations officer should ensure that all misunderstandings regarding the crisis are eliminated (Straubhaar, LaRose & Davenport 2010). Consequently, organisations should own and control the entire communication process.
One of the ways through which organizations can achieve this is by ensuring that it is the sole originator of all information related to the crisis. In order to restore stakeholders’ confidence, it is fundamental for public relation officers to be competent in dealing with the crisis faced (Devereux & Peirson-Smith 2011).
Engaging the media
To effectively manage crisis, it is important for organizations to adopt the most effective way of working with the media (Ray 1999). The crisis manager should possess knowledge and skills on how to engage the media. Consequently, the following rules should be taken into account.
- Establish a media headquarters
- Develop of crisis communication plan.
- Appoint a spokesperson to disseminate information regarding the crisis.
- Develop clear media rules.
- Quick response to questions asked (Temporal 2010).
- Avoiding any form of speculation regarding the crisis.
- The public relations officer should ensure that the media is constantly provided with information regarding the crisis.
- Information should be disseminated to stakeholders speedily.
Public relations is an important element in crisis management. This arises from the fact that it determines the effectiveness with which an organization deals with crisis that might adversely affect their public image, reputation, identity and hence their future survival. This is well illustrated by the case of Coca Cola Company and Toyota Corporation.
To effectively manage crisis, it is important for crisis managers to take to incorporate the concepts of prevention, preparation and provision. These concepts aid in ensuring that potential risks are effectively identified and dealt with.
Additionally, public relations practitioners should also ensure that optimal crisis communication is incorporated. This can be attained by integrating best crisis communication principles which include clarity, competence, control, confidence and concern.
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